The lights went out here last night halfway through a forgettable test match against Argentina.
It was highly symbolic as the All Blacks fumbled in the dark for most of an excruciating 80 minutes.
Never mind that they've now won three from three and have a firm grip on the Rugby Championship trophy, this was their worst performance of the new competition, and possibly their bleakest at home since the “flush the dunny and move on” 27-6 victory over Italy in 2009.
One positive was that the All Blacks were good enough to repel a robust and resilient challenge from the Pumas and emerge with a two tries-to-one victory on the back of a better second half.
New Zealand faced the prospect of a monumental upset after leading just 6-5 at halftime after an at times inept showing. But after an extended break, caused by a power outage, they were at least able to tidy up their game enough to secure victory.
A wild night in the capital probably didn't help but the All Blacks were poor in the first half, full of errors and indecision as the Argentineans were invited to stay very much in the contest.
Most disappointing were their eight handling errors before the break, despite promising a cleaner performance after leaving so many tries out on the paddock against the Wallabies in Auckland.
On the few occasions they were able to find some space, they either fumbled or bumbled as the Argentine defence scrambled brilliantly.
Aaron Cruden and Ma'a Nonu were the worst culprits, but they were not lone rangers.
Victor Vito had one seemingly clear run to the line late in the first half but was hauled in by Marcelo Bosh while Julian Savea had a couple of half-chances but was well contained by Gonzalo Comacho.
In the end the All Blacks were fortunate to take a 6-5 lead into the sheds, two Cruden penalties shading a splendid try to veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero after 10 minutes.
That score came after Nonu coughed up the ball in a collision inside his 22, and the Pumas were good enough to shift, retain and pave the opening for the 35-year-old front rower in his 51st test.
If there was to be any major correction coming on the back of an extended halftime break, then it was a long time coming.
Twenty-seven minutes, to be exact, with it taking that long for the All Blacks to construct their first try of the match, wing Savea being put across to punish the Argentinans after loose forward Julio Farias Cabello had been despatched to the sinbin for a deliberate knock down.
There was almost a sense of relief as the All Blacks finally sustained an attacking move long enough to construct a score.
Savea and Liam Messam had featured in the buildup, and when the ball was finally shifted left a classy touch from Conrad Smith enabled Nonu to put his wing in for a straight forward five-pointer.
That took the All Blacks out to 14-5 inside the final quarter of an hour and six minutes later the contest was made safe when Cory Jane was sent over wide out on the other wing.
The All Blacks had taken the scrum option off a penalty and a nicely worked move saw Cruden float a peach of a wide pass that gave Jane a classic finish in the corner.
Cruden's sideline conversion completed a solid, but far from spectacular, victory.
This was an off-key performance from the All Blacks in so many ways. Even their normally reliable scrum was well below its best, and most other parts of their game were well short of the acceptable.
They were harried into errors all night, and never found anything resembling a rhythm.
Not so the Pumas who were well led by their bustling, bristling No 8 and skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
To a man they tackled fabulously, their forwards flew in and gave as good as they took at the breakdowns and, as ever, they played an impressive game of percentage rugby.
In the end the All Blacks had enough in their arsenal to sceramble the win. But the moral victory very much went the way of Sir Graham Henry's Pumas.
New Zealand 22 (Julian Savea, Cory Jane tries; Aaron Cruden 3 pens, con) Argentina 5 (Rodrigo Roncero try). Ht: 6-5.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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