BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Captain Kieran Read scored two tries and earned a yellow card as New Zealand flaunted its depth in a 36-10 Rugby Championship win over Argentina.
The All Blacks took the field knowing they had secured the Rugby Championship title for the fifth time in six years after South Africa and Australia played a 27-27 draw in Bloemfontein.
New Zealand named a weakened lineup for Saturday's match, resting five frontline players ahead of next weekend's final round match against South Africa and promoting several second tier players into the starting side. The changes did nothing to break the momentum the All Blacks gained from their record 57-0 win over South Africa two weeks ago.
Read's double and tries to Damian McKenzie and Waisake Naholo gave them a 29-3 lead by halftime and David Havili scored a try on debut in the second half.
For Argentina, backrower Juan Manuel Leguizamon marked his 80th test match with a second half try.
The All Blacks side was similar to that which met the Pumas in New Plymouth three weeks ago and was lucky to keep alive New Zealand's unbeaten record against Argentina. Argentina led that match until midway through the second half before the All Blacks overcame an error-ridden performance to win 39-22.
The New Zealand selectors gave many of the players involved in that match a chance to improve on that performance and they largely did so in a bright first half, then through a scrappy second half when strong defense suppressed the Pumas' attempted comeback.
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett and fullback McKenzie sparked the All Blacks' attacking game in the first half, which contrasted the dour style adopted by the Pumas. Argentina was able to grind away more effectively in the second half, gaining a better share of possession and territory which helped stifle New Zealand.
South African referee Jaco Peyper had a major role in the match, issuing three yellow cards. He sin-binned Pumas lock Tomas Lavanini — a serial offender — for a dangerous tackle in the first half, dismissed All Blacks flanker Matt Todd for a maul infringement and Read in the second for a high tackle.
"It was certainly what we expected in that first half but we managed four tries so I suppose we got up a few points," Read said. "You've got to credit the boys' character, we defended pretty well and I guess two yellow cards didn't help us.
"But we really kept them out. We had to defend our hearts out and I'm really proud of the lads there."
Argentina's lack of discipline marked the first half and New Zealand showed a similar weakness in the second. The All Blacks also made far too many passing errors after halftime as they tried to sustain their style of all-out-attack without the same base they had enjoyed in the first spell.
The Pumas were able to alter the tempo of the game, which so heavily favored the All Blacks in the first half, and were more competitive when the pace became slower.
But Argentina still lost for the fifth time in the Rugby Championship this season, failing to fully embrace the opportunity to play against some of the world's best sides. Despite their exposure to Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, they continue to pursue a style of play which is limited and antiquated.
The Pumas came out fired up but were immediately under pressure when they dropped the opening kickoff. The All Blacks swept into attack and quickly capitalized with a penalty to Barrett for the opening points of the match.
Argentina hit back with a penalty to Nicolas Sanchez but the All Blacks' had their first try after six minutes when they attacked through McKenzie and Rieko Ioane on the left, then through Naholo on the right for Read to score.
McKenzie took advantage of the Pumas' inattention to score from a tapped penalty in the 16th minute, then Barrett made a try for Naholo with a brilliant break and pass which tore open the defense.
Read had his double in the 26th minute when Barrett's superb between-the-legs pass opened a gap for McKenzie and Ioane on the left and Naholo linked with Read on the right.
The Pumas denied the All Blacks another try until the final minute when Havili scored on debut.