Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks shift into top gear against Argentina

New Zealand 57 Argentina 22

It was the toughest game of the year so far and the All Blacks turned it into a cake walk.

There's a feeling now they are indeed building towards something special, that they may indeed take their game to new heights.

There's no denying the skill level of Kieran Read's All Blacks. They play with such freedom and confidence they again made test rugby look like something which it's not - easy.

Argentina were in it for 50 minutes, playing quite elegant and useful rugby and then they disappeared in quite dramatic fashion when the All Blacks suddenly shifted into top gear and let things flow.

There was so much ease on the ball from everyone. Pass-and-catch comes naturally to all of them and it must be a nightmare for opposition teams when someone such as Owen Franks can hit the ball on a stunning angle, use his footwork to beat the next man and then offload out of the tackle.

Ball-playing tight forwards are barely half the story, however. It's not just that these big lugs can make passes, they can also make strong decisions under pressure. There's also the fact they are constantly in the right places to make themselves available and Brodie Retallick would be a genuine contender for getting a game at first-five for some other test sides.

As much as there was beauty there was beast to match. There was a potent physicality to some of the exchanges and it is doubtful whether there is a harder man in test football at the moment than Jerome Kaino. He made a few tackles that were ferocious - the sort where those unfortunate enough to be the target don't forget it easily.

The mix of power, pace, skill and clinical execution simply overwhelmed Argentina in the end. They couldn't cope with the way the point of attack kept moving.

They weren't able to do keep their defence in shape when the ball was moving to different parts of the field and so many options open to the All Blacks.


A lively first half by Julian Savea meant Argentina became wary of the All Blacks going wide. Once they started expecting that, the All Blacks used a bit of pick-and-go and turned the ball inside more to make the Pumas defend the inside channels and, by the last 15 minutes, they had no real idea where they had to be to stop the charge.

There were black jerseys everywhere and the Pumas knew they were toast, which was a shame because, despite the final score, what's becoming apparent is that Argentina are developing into a complex and creative team. If the All Blacks are a step ahead of the rest of the world at the moment then the Pumas, along with England, are one of the best equipped contenders to close the gap.

Everyone bangs on about their muscular strength and set-piece excellence, but that's not where their strength lies these days.

They cut the All Blacks open in the first five minutes with the pace of their movement and ability to pass the ball out of the tackle. In one move they played more rugby than Australia did in two tests and this lingering notion of the Pumas being a must-beat side really has to be put to bed.

At some stage in the not-too-distant future Argentina will beat the All Blacks and that inevitable fact has to be kept in mind when evaluating the home side's performance in Hamilton.

Argentina caused multiple problems in multiple areas. Their ball retention was superb, as was their patience. They didn't overplay the offloading - or at least they did it plenty without forcing passes that weren't on.

And by playing with pace, accuracy and width, they opened the game up and forced the All Blacks to make decisions on defence.

They asked plenty of questions. It was just that New Zealand had all the answers.

New Zealand 57 (J. Savea, B. Smith (2), B. Barrett, R. Crotty (2), C. Faumuina, L. Romano tries; B. Barrett 6 cons; I. Dagg pen; A. Cruden con)
Argentina 22 (S. Cordero tries; N. Sanchez cons, 4 pens).
Halftime: 24-19.

- NZ Herald

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