Updated: 7:30am – Four yellow cards and a strange match but the All Blacks only needed one quarter of brilliance to blow away the Pumas with ease in Buenos Aires.
Another Rugby Championship title secured prior to kickoff, the All Blacks once again demonstrated just how far ahead of their Southern Hemisphere rivals they remain.
That the 36-10 victory was delivered without five certain starters only emphasises the All Blacks’ dominance.
Promoting fringe prospects always carries a degree of risk but the All Blacks never looked seriously troubled, only getting out of third gear for half an hour.
Four tries in the first 26 minutes put the result beyond doubt and silenced passionate locals.
This was nowhere near the same quality as the 57-0 thrashing of the Springboks but the All Blacks did enough with plenty of improvements to come.
Blown off the park early, the Pumas mounted a second half fightback but the All Blacks repelled several rolling mauls and survived two yellow cards – just as they did in the same fixture last year.
This time the culprits were Matt Todd (a harsh card for pulling down a rolling maul) and captain Kieran Read (high shot).
For the second successive test, the All Blacks’ defence largely held firm in the face long periods of pressure, only conceding one try.
Having led 29-3 at the break, collective execution went backwards fast as the All Blacks scored their only points of the second half with the final play.
It was a forgettable 40 minutes with mistakes and penalties making for a frustrating stop-start affair.
While the flashy stuff came wider out, undoubtedly the most pleasing aspect of the All Blacks’ performance was at scrum time. They demolished the Pumas pack there throughout.
Kane Hames answered critics, with the All Blacks earning penalties, one of particular importance just before half time from a scrum five metres out from their own line while one man down.
Luke Romano had some strong carries and the All Blacks scrum also lost no dominance when they replaced the entire front row.
Wyatt Crockett’s late pressure resulted in Ramiro Herrera copping the Pumas’ second yellow with referee Jaco Peyper losing patience.
The All Blacks’ opening burst featured brilliance all over the park but none were more compelling than some of Beauden Barrett’s touches.
Barrett wasn’t meant to make this trip, originally scheduled to stay at home with Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Ryan Crotty and Liam Squire. But when Lima Sopoaga opted to stay home for the birth of his first child, Barrett received the call up and he left his imprint all over this match.
Barrett kicked one penalty dead but, prior to that, in one instant he beat two defenders and drew another with a typically classy flick ball to send Waisake Naholo over. He bumped off defenders at other times, and even threw passes between his legs.
With hot-headed Argentine lock Tomas Lavanini in bin for a shoulder charge on Sonny Bill Williams, the All Blacks looked like they were playing touch footy in the backyard.
Damian McKenzie, in his best performance of the season, had a field day on attack and made one crucial tackle under his sticks early in the second half. Unlike previous weeks, he was brilliant under the high ball, too.
Naholo, in his first test for almost three months, made breaks, good decisions when through and finished well himself. His only blight was a forward pass to Codie Taylor which cost a second half try.
David Havili, out of Nelson, made his debut in the final 10 minutes, producing one stunning break from the back and finishing the final try.
This match, though, won’t go down as a classic.
All Blacks: Kieran Read 2, Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, David Havili tries, Beauden Barrett pen, con 4
Pumas: Juan Manuel Leguizamon try, Nicolas Sanchez pen, con