Just the workout these All Blacks needed
OPINION: Graham Henry is into uncharted territory. He has his All Blacks past the quarterfinal stage of a Rugby World Cup, though for a while there at Eden Park last night it looked a close-run thing.
For those who subscribe to the theory that a tough workout was just what these All Blacks needed, then this 33-10 victory would have been pleasing. It was as gruelling and grinding as it gets and sets the New Zealanders up nicely for their super Sunday against the Wallabies.
It took the All Blacks 67 minutes to finally break the heroic Argentine defence, when No 8 Kieran Read made it over off a peachy Jerome Kaino pass, and other than a late Brad Thorn try the hot favourites had to rely on the almost-perfect kicking boot of Piri Weepu who slotted seven penalties and missed only a tricky conversion.
In front of 57,912 raucous fans the New Zealanders got all they could handle from the pugnacious Pumas who defended fabulously.
If nothing else, they showed that this dangerous All Black attack can be blunted with the right mix of bravery and accuracy.
At 12-10 early in the second half the All Blacks must have wondered if they were in for a repeat of their Cardiff nightmare of four years ago, but to their credit they kept their composure to nail the game over the closing half-hour.
With just their second RWC victory over Argentina (and their 15th straight on home soil), Richie McCaw's New Zealanders are through to their sixth World Cup semifinal, and after this they're definitely battle-tested.
It was also an appropriate way to mark Mils Muliaina's 100th test, even if the fullback didn't make it past halftime.
The No 10 situation remains as murky as ever, though, after Colin Slade lasted just a little over half an hour before limping off with a groin problem. (What is it with these first-fives and their nether regions?). That allowed Manawatu's Aaron Cruden an extended taste of World Cup football which he came through impressively.
The first half was not exactly convincing fare from the All Blacks, the tournament hosts held tryless as they relied on four Piri Weepu penalties (to a seven-pointer by Argentina flanker Julio Farias Cabello) to eke out a 12-7 lead.
If a decent contest was what these New Zealanders needed, well they certainly got it in the first 40.
Wayne Smith had remarked beforehand about how well Argentina scrambled on defence, and they were at their backtracking best as they kept their line intact.
At one stage the All Blacks forwards went 15 phases, but Read was just bundled into touch as he reached over in the left corner.
That was really the story of the spell - the New Zealanders building pressure, and the Argentinians holding firm. Wing Cory Jane had a big first half - and he had to after news of his midweek indiscretions had emerged - and the New Zealand performance overall was full of potential and power, but just not the tries as reward.
In fact you would have got long odds on the South Americans being the only try-scorers of the opening 40, Cabello doing well to lunge over after big No 8 Leonardo Senatore had slipped a Read tackle from a scrum and set up their only real chance of the half.
The Argentine defence held until Read finally found room to cross in the left corner, and then Thorn completed a typically hard-working night when he finished off after some good buildup work from Sonny Bill Williams and Jane, and a nice Read offload.
McCaw, in his 101st test, and supposedly playing on one good foot, had a mighty match, holding nothing back as he led the charge against the tough Pumas forwards.
Read wasn't far behind him in terms of vigour and commitment.
Jane also responded as he was challenged - with something special - while Ma'a Nonu was the most threatening of the New Zealand backs with his power game in midfield.
Man-of-the-match Weepu also played - and kicked - with composure and precision.
But the story of this match was the challenge the All Blacks faced, and stared down. They are through, and surely ready for what's coming next Sunday.
New Zealand 33 (Kieran Read, Brad Thorn tries; Piri Weepu 7 pen; Aaron Cruden con) Argentina 10 (Julio Farias Cabello try; Felipe Contepomi con; Marcello Bosch pen ).
- Fairfax Media
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