Scoreboard flatters ABs in brutal battle

Ben Smith breaks the line during the Rugby Championship test against Argentina in Nelson. Photo:...
Ben Smith breaks the line during the Rugby Championship test against Argentina in Nelson. Photo: Getty Images
The All Blacks coaches got their wish of a brutal test to examine the credentials of a number of fringe players.

There had been a bit of pre-game chatter about the Pumas being an improved team, which probably sounded like the usual hollow attempts to build a bit of interest.

But the Pumas really were much improved and it is with that in mind that the All Blacks have to be judged.

It also has to be remembered they were running a much-changed team with a handful of inexperienced players.

All of that considered, they played pretty well. They certainly defended well and they were clinical when they needed to be.

Some of their work was a little hurried and unpolished – particularly after they had created a half chance – but nothing more than was expected.

On all the critical factors of being passionate, direct and full of energy – they ticked every box and while Richie Mo'unga was quite obviously nervous and mistake-ridden, he did enough to put the All Blacks in all the places they needed to be.

He was quite brilliantly aided in that by Ben Smith who had a commanding night as a source of creation and inspiration. The veteran outside back was the best player on the field and ensured that whenever the All Blacks needed a touch of something to restore their momentum, he provided it.

Brodie Retallick was forced from the field after just 12 minutes with an injury. Photo: Getty Images
Brodie Retallick was forced from the field after just 12 minutes with an injury. Photo: Getty Images
He had a few handy allies on the inspiration front. Shannon Frizell had a healthy appetite for hard work, which most likely, constituted about 90 per cent of what he had been asked to do.

He was always on hand as a first receiver to smash it up and invariably he managed to punch on to a short ball a la Liam Squire a little wider on the field and was able to make a handful of half breaks.

He'll need to work on what he does with the ball once he's fractured the defensive line, but it was a performance that was encouragingly good nevertheless and hints that he has all the right intentions to make a fist of test football.

It was more often than not Scott Barrett who provided the expertly-timed short passes that set Frizell through the Pumas' defence and the middle brother of New Zealand's ruling rugby clan is perhaps destined to be the unluckiest man in the country.

He had another outstanding game that jumped between brutal and intimidating to deft and subtle with no flickering.

Barrett is a ball winner and ball player and a natural athlete with it, but he has the misfortune to have been born too close to Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick and the full range of his talents may never quite be appreciated while the other two are around.

On that, it wasn't clear how badly hurt Retallick was when he skulked off after 12 minutes which was the result of an injury he picked up in the first.

What was more of a concern for the All Blacks was that Retallick made his way off at the same time Ngani Laumape was forced to the sideline with a knee injury and Ben Smith had to go for a concussion test.

Barely 10 minutes into the game and the All Blacks had cleared out half their bench and to compound matters, Argentina were suddenly buzzing.

They are not the side they used to be. They have not only more belief and more confidence, they have considerably more composure and ability, too.

They were willing to move the ball from inside their own 22 and they found holes as a result of their accuracy, timing and movement.

The Pumas also refused to lie down. The All Blacks couldn't surge ahead on the scoreboard the way they did against Australia in consecutive games.

The Pumas were way more resilient, demanded that the All Blacks earn all their tries.

Which was the pleasing thing for both teams. A young All Blacks team had to battle through a genuine test and work for everything they got.

They had to defend with energy and understanding and they had to keep re-adjusting to subdue a team that was marshalled superbly by the vastly underrated Nicolas Sanchez.

New Zealand 46 (N. Milner-Skudder, TJ. Perenara (2), K. Read, S. Frizell, J. Goodhue tries; R. Mo'unga 6 cons, 2 pens)
Argentina 24 (R. Moyano, N. Sanchez, E. Boffelli tries; N. Sanchez 3 cons, pen)
HT: 18-7

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