All Blacks move back to No 1 with dominant win

Hoskins Sotutu runs the ball during The Rugby Championship match between the Argentina Pumas and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo: Getty Images
Hoskins Sotutu runs the ball during The Rugby Championship match between the Argentina Pumas and the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo: Getty Images
Top of the world again, and making light work of it.

The All Blacks regained the No 1 ranking from the world champion Springboks for the first time since late 2018, and placed one hand on the Rugby Championship title, with their eighth straight win of the year.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster made it clear from the start of this season the goal was to become the No 1 team in the world again.

Foster is unlikely to have envisioned scaling that summit this early in the campaign, and has received major assistance from the Wallabies with their repeat wins over the Springboks, but if nothing else the No 1 ranking reflects the All Blacks' transformation from last season's struggles.

The All Blacks are not the finished product yet, and tougher tests await, but they are well on their way to achieving their stated goal.

The Pumas are not in a great place, having suffered five successive defeats, but the ease with which the All Blacks brushed them aside in Brisbane – after making 11 starting changes from last week's 39-0 shutout – underlined their mounting credentials and supreme depth, despite an underwhelming second half.

It wasn't a completely seamless transition from Foster's first-choice side to many of his fringe prospects but, given the scale of the changes and potential loss of cohesion, it was never going to be perfect. In the end five tries to one produced another one-sided result.

While the All Blacks cleanout wasn't as effective as last week and a number of offloads didn't stick, the maul defence was again strong and the scrum vastly improved, with Joe Moody doing the damage early and George Bower and Ofa Tuungafasi, in his return from knee surgery, continuing the dominance.

Many second, or in some cases third, choice players staked claims for further game time in the coming weeks too.

In the pack Hoskins Sotutu was dynamic off the back of the scrum; Ethan Blackadder's relentless work rate and defensive duties stood out from blindside, Samisoni Taukei'aho carried powerfully on the edge and in the middle of the park and 21-year-old lock Tupou Vaa'i was equally prominent. Taukei'aho claimed one try while Vaa'i bagged a brace in his dominant 80-minute shift.

As the match wore on Blackadder and Sotutu came into their own to combine and make easy metres around the fringes.

The All Blacks led 24-3 at halftime after three first-half tries. They could easily have collected three more after botching two through forward passes, and Rieko Ioane being denied for a double movement after a brilliant burst from centre.

Damian McKenzie, in his second test start at No 10, pulled the strings with composure and patience for 64 minutes to prove he is more than capable of playing within himself and taking control from first receiver. Outside McKenzie, Chiefs second five-eighth Quinn Tupaea also didn't try overplay his hand in a solid performance which featured two breakdown turnovers.

Returning to the right wing, Will Jordan gave a timely reminder of his silky skills.

The All Blacks enjoyed injection off the bench in the second half with Blues halfback Finlay Christie adding spark from the base but, like last week, they lost their way at times to concede their first try against the Pumas in three tests.

Defensively, the All Blacks were largely impressive once more. Deep into the second half they were put under immense pressure on their own line. The pack repelled repeated lineout drive attempts to highlight their commitment to the cause.

Foster will be disappointed to watch his side let a 29-6 lead slip and, perhaps, fail to display the ruthless edge with several scrappy moments in the second half.

Overall, though, he will be satisfied.

A third bonus point win pushes the All Blacks 10 points clear atop the Rugby Championship table, and after starting an entirely new forward pack Foster now has the luxury of bringing back the likes of Brodie Retallick, Akira Ioane and Nepo Laulala for the first of two tests against the Springboks next week.

There's certainly no question which coaching position you would rather be in ahead of the highly-anticipated 100th test between the All Blacks and Springboks.

All Blacks 36 (Tupou Vaa'i 2, Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara, Samisoni Taukei'aho tries; Jordie Barrett 4 cons, pen)
Pumas 13 (Emiliano Boffelli try; con, 2 pens)
HT: 24-3

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