As if the rest of the rugby world needed a reminder, the All Blacks have once again highlighted the gulf in class between them and the others with a demolition of Argentina in Buenos Aires this morning.
Like a multi-headed hydra of Greek mythology, the threats just kept coming and the test was over as a contest at halftime. With 16 consecutive victories and the world record of 18 well within their grasp as they eye tests against the Springboks and Wallabies over the next three weeks, it will take an epic performance to topple the world champions.
The only issues were discipline related in the second half as the errors and penalties mounted which will ensure coach Steve Hansen isn't completely happy.
There was plenty to like about their first-half performance, though, after they were forced to subdue a fired-up Pumas team at the Estadio Jose Amalfitani. But although forwards such as Agustin Creevy and Facundo Isa made occasional inroads, there was a feeling that they and their teammates were only just holding on, resolute though their defence was in that first quarter.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
Anton Lienert-Brown's try broke the floodgates and he has every reason to be very happy with his efforts in the No13 jersey, a test during which he will have given the All Blacks selectors plenty to think about. The others given rare starting opportunities - Patrick Tuipulotu, Liam Squire and TJ Perenara - also made the most of them, with Perenara finishing off a stunning team try on halftime, but Lienert-Brown was perhaps the best of the lot.
He was sound on defence and attack - he had three try assists - and the 21-year-old appears to have the uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. Malakai Fekitoa has a fight on his hands to get the jersey back for the test against the Boks in Durban next weekend.
Much has been made of the All Blacks' superior fitness, but their handling skills and game awareness are what really set them apart in the opening exchanges. Whether close, difficult passes in contact by the forwards, or wider space-seeking passes by the backs, the depth of skills and vision by the visitors constantly kept the Pumas guessing and in the end they were bereft of ideas.
Their scrum and a constant stream of penalties for the home side from referee Jaco Peyper halted the All Blacks' momentum, and it meant little fullback Damian McKenzie, on for the final 30 minutes, endured a tough debut. Unfortunately for him he was culpable for the Pumas' second try to Joaquin Tucolet thanks in part to a cruel bounce.
Prop Joe Moody and loose forward Squire both spent time in the sinbin in the second half for offside as the match deteriorated into a bad-tempered slugfest, with hooker Dane Coles and Perenara particularly vocal.
But it shouldn't take away from a first 50 minutes which will rate among the All Blacks' best this year. The constant striving for perfection will continue as they set off for their long trip to South Africa.
All Blacks 36 (Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Dane Coles, TJ Perenara, Ben Smith tries; Beauden Barrett pen, 4 cons)
Argentina 17 (Facundo Isa, Joaquin Tucolet tries; Nicolas Sanchez pen, con, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias con)