ABs snatch bonus-point win

Ben Smith (Getty Images)
Ben Smith (Getty Images)

La Plata - A last-minute Ben Smith try gave New Zealand a bonus-point 33-15 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina in La Plata on Saturday.

The result moves the All Blacks five points clear of South Africa at the top of the table ahead of a showdown at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next weekend.

Right-wing Smith struck for the second time in the match with just 27 seconds left, using brain and brawn to dive over and trigger celebrations.

New Zealand triumphed 54-15 at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata last season, but it was a much closer contest this time with handling errors costing Argentina dearly at times.

"It was tough out there and all credit to Argentina for pushing us so hard," said New Zealand skipper and No 8 Kieran Read.

"We were great at times in the second half, giving us a lot of positives to build on before facing the Springboks next weekend."

Argentina are still without a Championship victory since making their debut last year, but this performance offers hope that they can overcome fellow strugglers Australia next weekend.

"Are we ready to take on the Australians? Well, not right now," was the humorous response of Pumas captain and No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe to a question.

"We must rest first, then prepare to throw everything into our final game of the season against the Wallabies in search of a victory.

"New Zealand are a great team. They apply pressure all the time and when you make a mistake, they are ruthless finishers."

Argentina had an early chance to take the lead from a long-range penalty, but centre Marcelo Bosch saw his attempt drift well left.

Los Pumas switched goal-kickers for a shorter shot soon after and fly-half Nicolas Sanchez made no mistake to nudge the home side ahead.

All Blacks playmaker Aaron Cruden, starting in place of injured Dan Carter, levelled from a penalty four minutes later.

Sanchez restored the Pumas' advantage through another successful penalty and missed a further attempt, leaving Argentina 6-3 ahead midway through the opening half.

But once again the lead was short-lived as left-wing Julian Savea snapped up a loose ball in midfield and darted down the wing to go over in the corner.

Cruden was off target with the conversion only to be given a second chance because a spectator shone a green laser at him.

The playmaker appeared unsettled by the incident and missed his second chance as well with the ball again veering left of the near post.

Cruden did succeed with a penalty shot though, as did Sanchez, giving the 2011 Rugby World Cup winners an 11-9 lead at the break.

That changed to a one-point deficit four minutes into the second half as Bosch comfortably slotted his second 50m effort between the posts.

However, the All Blacks were never prepared to trail for long and just two minutes later Cruden kicked his third penalty of the game to reclaim a two-point lead.

New Zealand were looking increasingly dangerous on attack and flank Sam Cane and Smith crossed the try-line within five minutes to push the visitors 26-12 ahead.

Cane dived over in the corner after slick handling took the ball from one side of the field to the other, but Cruden fluffed the conversion.

Smith claimed his sixth try of the Championship by bursting through the middle after being set up by a moment of magic from veteran centre Ma'a Nonu.

Cruden converted this time before the rattled Argentines regained some composure and Sanchez kicked his fourth penalty.

With 10 minutes left it was 26-15 to the All Blacks, but they needed one more try for a bonus point and a five-point advantage over great rivals the Springboks.

It appeared to have eluded them until Smith burst through and South Africa must win with a bonus point and prevent New Zealand gaining any points to snatch the title.

Scorers:

Argentina:

Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (4), Marcelo Bosch

New Zealand:

Tries: Julian Savea, Sam Cane, Ben Smith (2)

Conversions: Aaron Cruden, Beauden Barrett

Penalties: Cruden (3)

Teams:

Argentina:

15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Julio Farias Cabello, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza

Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23 Horacio Agulla

New Zealand:

15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock

Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau

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