All Blacks dominant in Pumas win
At long, glorious last.
It's taken six at times agonising weeks, but the All Blacks have finally delivered the complete performance we all knew they were capable of in La Plata today.
The New Zealanders ran in seven tries all told as they put a game Argentina outfit to the sword 54-15 with their best performance of the Rugby Championship.
They finally unleashed the high-tempo, high-impact game we'd all been expecting all season, and were simply too good for their hosts as they rattled up a 15th straight test victory, and an eighth on the bounce for 2012.
The victory also clinched the inaugural Rugby Championship title for the All Blacks, regardless of what happens in next weekend's Soweto showdown against the Springboks.
Not that there's any chance of there being any lack of intensity for what is always a huge battle between the southern heavyweights.
It was scintillating, skilful and occasionally seismic stuff from the All Blacks as they belatedly unleashed their full box of tricks.
Their forwards hit their straps up front once more, winning the sort of quick, quality ball that usually spells bad news for the opposition, and this time the backs were in the mood to execute.
The backs finished all seven tries as they had a field day with the up-tempo game that their forwards were able to initiate.
The classy Cory Jane and powerful Julian Savea had five between them on either wing, and Aaron Smith and Ma'a Nonu added the others on an entertaining night at Estadio Ciudad de la Plata..
Any number of All Blacks were outstanding. Up front Owen Franks, Kieran Read and Richie McCaw were quite special, Read especially as he reminded us that the New Zealanders, and Crusaders, will not want for a talismanic forward when McCaw goes on sabbatical next year.
Luke Romano also continued his emergence as the new Brad Thorn of this era with another high workrate display in the second row. The All Black set piece operated efficiently too, as Steve Hansen's men again revealed their ability to strike off first phase.
The backs had a field day. Aaron Smith revelled in the free-flowing nature of the encounter, underlining his status as the premier No 9 in this team. Dan Carter was brilliant and showed no signs of rustiness after his two-test injury hiatus, while Nonu, who's pondering whether to stay or go, confirmed what a key cog he is in the world's best team.
Out wide Jane and Savea were at their predatory best. Jane's hat-trick showed he has got to be close to the world's best wing at the moment, and his last intercept effort to complete the hat-trick showed that he still possesses that killer fend.
It was the All Blacks' highest score in Argentina, and demonstrated once and for all that Hansen's team have the all-round game to take apart any foe on their day.
The Pumas hinted early on that they had come to play, and confirmed that notion after just half a dozen minutes when talented fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino carved up the New Zealand defence from first phase, and popped the ball nicely for halfback Martin Landajo to finish on the angled run.
That try, for an early 5-0 lead, stunned the All Blacks who finally shook off their trademark early lethargy after quarter of an hour to answer Landajo's score in equally scintillating fashion. Ma'a Nonu, who's about to decide on his future, demonstrated his mind is very much on the present when he seized the moment beautifully from a ruck.
The Pumas forwards had either overrun the mark, or fanned out on defence, and Nonu simply picked the ball up and charged upfield down route one with a telling burst, the second five able to offload to halfback Aaron Smith in Amorosino's tackle for the finish, and a 7-5 lead.
From this point on the All Blacks took their game to another level as they delivered the performance they had been threatening all season.
Three more tries came in a captivating quarter of an hour as the New Zealanders' ball-retention, tempo and skill left the Pumas floundering.
Cory Jane had the second try, in the 23rd minute, when a slick backline move from first phase all but broke the stretched Argentinean defence, No 8 Kieran Read punched through from quick ruck ball and offloaded splendidly to Jane for the finish wide on the left.
Wing Julian Savea then added a brace of five-pointers before the half was out, the Wellingtonian showing fine skills to toe through spilled ball from Gonzalo Comacho and easily win the race to the ball; then finishing a wonderful team try just before the break that again saw Read featuring prominently as the ball was moved at pace, with width and with precision..
The second half started in carbon copy fashion, with Argentina dominating early, and being rewarded with a try to wing Gonzalo Comacho after some sustained pressure. The Exeter flyer found Andrew Hore's defence wanting around the ruck to reduce the deficit, briefly, to 17 points.
But then the All Blacks regained their groove to seal a fine victory. Jane had his second try, after a beautiful offload from Savea, and Nonu his first when replacement Aaron Cruden slipped through a gap splendidly, and soon it was 47-15.
Jane then finished a thrilling night with a fabulous run from an intercept that saw him twice put a big fend on Juan martin Hernandez, and even the Pumas fans were on their feet applauding as the All Blacks left the field.
It was that sort of performance.
New Zealand 54 (Aaron Smith, Cory Jane 3, Julian Savea 2, Ma'a Nonu tries; Dan Carter 2 pens, 3 cons; Aaron Cruden pen, 2 cons), Argentina 15 (Martin Landajo, Gonzalo Comacho tries; Juan Martin Hernandez pen, con).Ht: 32-8.
Which three first-fives would you have taken on the All Blacks' northern tour?