All Blacks win in windy Welly

By Gregor Paul in Wellington

The All Blacks perform the Haka before their Rugby Championship international against Argentina in Wellington.
The All Blacks perform the Haka before their Rugby Championship international against Argentina in Wellington.

All Blacks 21
Argentina 5

The waiting continues for this elusive high octane, high accuracy performance the All Blacks have been chasing.

Unless they grab a pot of glue, it may never come. For the third consecutive test the All Blacks were destructively negligent in the simple art of catching. The analysis into their faults doesn't really need to be any deeper than that - they couldn't build momentum because they didn't retain possession for long enough.

It was a slow grind to the tape - never convincing and never entirely comfortable, either. That all important breakthrough score eluded the All Blacks until the 65th minute. The Pumas had been starting to creak in the 10 minutes before - the intensity of the contest was beginning to take its toll and the All Blacks had been finding more space - stretching the defence to breaking point in a period that saw Julio Farias Cabello yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on.

Reduced to 14, even Argentina's magnificent defence couldn't hold out and finally Ma'a Nonu was free with the line at his mercy, generously choosing to pass to Julian Savea. That was the cork out, the tension relieved and the natural order restored.

Cory Jane danced over in the corner a few minutes later but again, the All Blacks won't be deluding themselves they delivered what they wanted.

Argentina were good value, tough, durable and way more enterprising than anyone thought, but they lived a bit off welfare which kept them in the hunt for longer than they probably had any right to.

Realising they were still in business as late as the final quarter, their defence, already a touch frightening, went up another level. Luke Romano will be sore this morning after he tried to smash over from a tap penalty and was repelled at some rate and for some distance and just about every All Black was at some point hit by a blue and white missile.

That ferocity was a factor in unsettling the All Blacks and putting them off their stroke. But even allowing for that, and a wind that was harder to read than Ben Okri's The Famished Road, the home side won't be happy.

They didn't establish who was in charge early enough. The conditions seemed to clam up Aaron Cruden and leave him focused on delivering tactical and territorial control. That's not really his game but if he's ever going to claim Daniel Carter's throne, then he has to convince as a kicker, navigator and wet weather player.

He's not there yet and the All Blacks weren't helped by him being so static when he took the ball. His kicking, while considerable longer than it has been in the past, had a touch of hit and hope about it. There was a sense that as long as he banged it long, that would be fine.

But Argentina were never really put under pressure through his boot and Israel Dagg didn't offer much in the way of finesse either. It wasn't like the World Cup last year where there was mild panic simmering under the surface as a result of Carter not being out there - but the longer the game went on, the more his presence was missed.

The All Blacks missed Carter's ability to take control and make the game all about him; all about the All Blacks. It was a night to build the pressure through accuracy and field position, to demoralise the Pumas by pushing them further into further into dark paces and leaving them with a dreaded feeling there were more than 15 All Blacks on the park.

But that authority was missing and Cruden can by no means be held entirely responsible for that. Passes still didn't stick. Far too many.

Possession wasn't cherished the way it should have been. Some credit for that has to be given to the Argentinians who put themselves about: their first-up tackling was venomously good and they scrambled expertly.

In truth, the All Blacks were perhaps a bit thrown by the quality of the resistance. They knew it would be staunch, come with a bit of feeling, but yet the All Blacks still appeared to be surprised by it at times.

Still, it remains an entirely heartening state of affairs that mistakes and inaccuracy can be the theme of the night and the All Blacks still won by a few lengths or more. When that elusive top quality performance comes, someone is going to be sorry.

New Zealand 21 (J. Savea, C. Jane tries; A. Cruden con, 3 pens) Argentina 5 (R. Roncero try).

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