BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Winger Rieko Ioane scored two tries as New Zealand rebounded from a shock loss to South Africa to beat Argentina 35-17 Saturday to win the Rugby Championship for the sixth time in seven years.
The All Blacks' title win was delayed when they were beaten 36-34 by the Springboks in Wellington two weeks ago. But they completed their Championship victory Saturday with a depleted lineup which beat the Pumas by five tries to two.
With a New Zealand pack missing captain Kieran Read and his preferred replacement Luke Whitelock, starting lock Brodie Retallick and regular blindside flanker Liam Squire crushed the Argentina scrum.
After a disastrous performance against the Springboks, the All Blacks were facing the possibility of their first-ever loss to Argentina and their first back-to-back losses since Steve Hansen took over as head coach in 2011. Hansen refused to panic and went with his plan to rest Read ahead of next week's rematch with South Africa.
His faith in a number of second string players was vindicated when the All Blacks took control of the match early on, scoring three first half tries through wingers Ioane and Waisake Naholo to lead 21-3 at halftime.
The Pumas rallied to match the All Blacks two tries apiece in the second half, scoring through replacement scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli and fullback Emiliano Boffelli. But a try midway through the half by replacement lock Patrick Tuipulotu and a late score to center Anton Lienert-Brown gave New Zealand a sufficient margin to resist the Argentina comeback.
"I thought we started really well, didn't have the ball for the first bit but when we got our first opportunity we scored and the boys really took that and built as the game went on," stand-in New Zealand captain Whitelock said.
Whitelock said the All Blacks were determined not to let their loss to South Africa force them to depart from their natural, attacking game.
"If we see an opportunity we're going to take it," he said. "We don't want to be second guessing ourselves.
"Towards the end of the game we took a few of the older boys off and the young boys stepped up and finished strong. Argentina didn't allow us to run away with the game, they came back in that middle part. They've got some really good athletes and are really hard to stop."
The match wasn't of high quality as both sides made too many errors of handling and execution to allow it to rise to the epic quality of the last test between the All Blacks and Springboks. The Pumas also took a combative approach which stretched legality at times, repeatedly taking out All Blacks players off the ball.
The only yellow card of the match went against New Zealand when center Sonny Bill Williams, in only his second test of the season and his first since June, was sin-binned just before halftime for a second offside play near the All Blacks goalline.
The heroes for New Zealand were its forwards and particularly its front row in which props Ofa Tu'ungafasi and Karl Tu'inukuafe started in place of Joe Moody and Owen Franks. Both had superb games in scrums and around the field where both came close to topping the All Blacks tackle count.
Young prop Angus Ta'avao then came off the bench to make his test debut in the 51st minute, replacing Tu'ungafasi. That left the All Blacks with an extraordinary propping pair — both Tu'inukuafe and Ta'avao started the season without Super Rugby contracts and with no expectation of ending as test players.
Argentina had come into the match with some hope of ending its winless streak against the All Blacks which now stretches to 32 tests. The Pumas have made huge improvements under new coach Mario Ledesma this season, winning two matches in the Championship for the first time.
But they were at a heavy disadvantage when their scrum, formerly the strongest part of their game, fell to pieces, leaving them without a reliable platform for attacking play.
"I think we said before the game we want to be the team we really are," Cubelli said. "I think in the first half we weren't the team we have been all year. In the second half I think we played with a lot more energy but I think we have a lot of things to work on."