New Zealand overcomes stern Argentina challenge to win 57-22

HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) Flyhalf Beauden Barrett scored a try, made another and kicked 12 points as New Zealand quelled a spirited challenge from Argentina to win a Rugby Championship test 57-22 on Saturday.

Argentina rocked the All Blacks with winger Santiago Cordero's try after two minutes and led until the 24th when New Zealand went ahead for the first time with the second of three first-half tries.

The Pumas were still only two points behind at 24-22 in the 50th minute and were shaking the foundations of the All Blacks' game with their aggression on attack. But New Zealand went to its powerful bench and created four tries between the 53rd and 66th minutes – two to center Ryan Crotty – to destroy Argentina's hopes of a first-ever win over the All Blacks.

Fullback Ben Smith also scored a double and other tries went to winger Julian Savea, prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Luke Romano as New Zealand maintained its unbeaten record in 23 tests against Argentina since the teams first met in 1985.

But the scoreboard failed to reflect the quality of the performance from Argentina which, for 50 minutes, posed the greatest challenge the All Blacks have faced this season after three test wins over Wales in June and two over Australia earlier in the Rugby Championship.

Employing shrewd tactics designed by coach Daniel Hourcade and playing with real fervor until the middle of the second half, when New Zealand's depth finally told, Argentina was likely the better team. It attacked the All Blacks around the fringe of rucks and mauls, after competing superbly at breakdowns, and cracked the New Zealand defense with powerful forward runners and with wingers Cordero and Matias Moroni running strongly close in.

Argentina also defended superbly around the fringes and prevented the All Blacks establishing their phase game, though New Zealand still swooped on half-chances to score tries that gave the hosts a 24-19 lead by halftime.

Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kicked a conversion and five penalties – six goals from seven attempts – to keep the Pumas in the game, though they also shocked the All Blacks with their intensity on attack and were unlucky not to add to Cordero's early try.

The All Blacks coaches were forced to go to their bench earlier than intended to inject a spark into a lethargic performance and that worked with the burst of four tries through the middle of the second hafl.

''We certainly came out with some intent and they matched it which is exactly what you want,'' All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. ''It was a good game.

''The bench was outstanding and all 23 players were needed by us tonight.''

Read said Argentina ''got a blow on'' at rucks which prevented the All Blacks from keeping possession for long periods and was also able to get in behind New Zealand on attack, breaking down its defense.

The Pumas were coming off a confidence-building 26-24 win over South Africa in their most recent Rugby Championship test and showed the fruits of that confidence with their early display, playing at pace and with freedom.

They twice cut through the All Blacks' defense in the first two minutes before scrumhalf Martin Landajo handed off to Cordero for the opening try.

New Zealand created a try for Julian Savea from an attacking scrum in the 10th minute but Sanchez kept Argentina in front with penalties in the 14th and 19th minutes.

The All Blacks took the lead for the first time with Ben Smith's try in the 24th minute – from a break by Savea – but almost immediately lost the lead to another Sanchez penalty. They reclaimed it with a long-range penalty to Israel Dagg and led for the remainder of the match.

But New Zealand had to dig deeper than at any time since last year's World Cup final to achieve its win.

''We're proud of the way the guys stuck at it,'' Read said. ''It got tight tonight and we haven't been in that situation too much as a group.

''So there will be a lot of learnings from that and it was good to be able to do that on the field and not have to do that through a lack of a result.''

Barrett scored his try in the 36th when a kick through by Ben Smith sat up for him, allowing him to elude fullback Joaquin Tuculet. Sanchez's penalty cut the lead to five points at halftime and another made it 24-22 in the 50th minute.

New Zealand looked a little dazed and it took the arrivals from the bench of hooker Codie Taylor to settle their lineout and flanker Ardie Savea to inject attacking intent. That led to a landslide of tries: to Crotty in the 53rd and 63rd minutes, to Faumuina in the 56th and to Ben Smith in the 66th. A last try to Romano from a crosskick by Aaron Cruden made the win emphatic and left Argentina to wonder how the game had slipped so quickly away.

''We played 50 minutes of great rugby but it's not enough,'' Landajo said. ''I think in the second half we started well for 10 or 15 minutes but couldn't score a try. The first time they got down our end they scored and there's the difference.''