HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand quelled a spirited challenge from Argentina to win their Rugby Championship test 57-22 on Saturday.
Argentina rocked the All Blacks with winger Santiago Cordero's try after two minutes and led until the 24th when New Zealand went ahead for the first time with the second of three first-half tries.
The Pumas were still only two points behind at 24-22 in the 50th minute and were shaking the foundations of the All Blacks' game with their aggression on attack. But New Zealand went to its powerful bench and created four tries between the 53rd and 66th minutes - two to center Ryan Crotty - to destroy Argentina's hopes of a first-ever win over the All Blacks.
Fullback Ben Smith also scored a double as New Zealand maintained its unbeaten record in 23 tests against Argentina since their first in 1985.
But the scoreboard failed to reflect the quality of the performance from Argentina which, for 50 minutes, posed the greatest challenge the All Blacks have faced this season after three wins over Wales in June and two over Australia in the Rugby Championship.
Employing shrewd tactics designed by coach Daniel Hourcade, and playing with real fervor until the middle of the second half, when New Zealand's depth finally told, Argentina was likely the better team. It attacked the All Blacks around the fringe of rucks and mauls, after competing superbly at breakdowns, and cracked the New Zealand defense with powerful forward runners and with wingers Cordero and Matias Moroni running strongly close in.
Argentina also defended superbly around the fringes and prevented the All Blacks establishing their phase game, though New Zealand still swooped on half-chances to score tries that gave the hosts a 24-19 lead by halftime.
Flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kicked a conversion and five penalties — six goals from seven attempts — to keep the Pumas in the game, and they were unlucky not to add to Cordero's early try.
The All Blacks coaches were forced to go to their bench earlier than intended to inject a spark into a lethargic performance, and that worked with the burst of four tries through the middle of the second half.
"We certainly came out with some intent, and they matched it, which is exactly what you want," All Blacks captain Kieran Read said. "It was a good game.
"The bench was outstanding and all 23 players were needed by us tonight."
The Pumas showed the fruits of a confidence-building 26-24 win over South Africa in their last Rugby Championship test, playing at pace and with freedom.
They twice cut through the All Blacks' defense in the first two minutes before scrumhalf Martin Landajo handed off to Cordero for the opening try.
New Zealand created a try for winger Julian Savea from an attacking scrum, but Sanchez kept Argentina in front with successive penalties.
The All Blacks took the lead for the first time with Ben Smith's try in the 24th minute — from a break by Savea — but almost immediately lost the lead to another Sanchez penalty. They reclaimed it with a long-range penalty to Israel Dagg, and led for the remainder of the match.
But New Zealand had to dig deeper than at any time since last year's Rugby World Cup final.
"It got tight tonight and we haven't been in that situation too much," Read said. "So there will be a lot of learnings from that, and it was good to be able to do that on the field and not have to do that through a lack of a result."
Flyhalf Beauden Barrett scored when a kick through by Ben Smith sat up for him, allowing him to elude fullback Joaquin Tuculet. Sanchez's penalty cut the lead to five points at halftime and another made it 24-22 in the 50th.
New Zealand looked a little dazed and it took the arrivals from the bench of hooker Codie Taylor to settle their lineout and flanker Ardie Savea to inject attacking intent. That led to a landslide of tries to Ryan Crotty twice, prop Charlie Faumuina Faumuina, and Ben Smith. A last try to lock Luke Romano from a crosskick by Aaron Cruden made the win emphatic and left Argentina to wonder how the game slipped so quickly away.
"We played 50 minutes of great rugby," Landajo said, "but it's not enough."