All Blacks battle past Argentina
Graham Jenkins at Eden Park
October 9, 2011
Piri Weepu knocked over 21 points for the All Blacks from the tee
© Getty Images
New Zealand set up a Rugby World Cup semi-final showdown against Australia with a hard-fought 33-10 victory over Argentina at Eden Park in Auckland.
Second half tries from No.8 Kieran Read and lock Brad Thorn and a superb kicking display from scrum-half Piri Weepu saw off a determined Pumas side that led briefly in the first half thanks to a try from flanker Julio Farias Cabello. But the victory appears to have come at some cost to New Zealand with fly-half Colin Slade struck down with a groin injury in the opening period.
All Black wingers Sonny Bill Williams and Cory Jane had the home crowd on their feet early on with an impressive break that took their side deep into Argentina's half but the Pumas gave as good as they got in a lively opening. Pressure from Argentina forced the first real opening with Slade's failure to hold a pass pounced upon by their fired up rivals.
The loose ball was hacked on to set up a foot race between centre Marcel Bosch and opposite number Conrad Smith with the All Blacks' veteran getting back just in time to avert the danger. Santiago Fernandez was then off target with a drop goal attempt as the Pumas continued to threaten. The All Blacks rallied with Jane exploiting some space down the touchline before an offside penalty enabled Weepu to settle the nerves and open the scores from the kicking tee.
Argentina were clearly up for the fight with their defence holding firm in the face of a determined All Blacks side that put together a lot of phases but made little progress. An injury to Slade did little to disrupt the All Blacks' rhythm with the ball worked right then left to create the opening for No.8 Read but his score was disallowed by the Television Match Official Shaun Veldsman who correctly ruled his foot had brushed the touchline.
The Pumas' outstanding defensive work continued to frustrate the All Blacks until a cross kick from Weepu split them open. The ball found Jane who kicked the ball on once more for fullback Mils Muilaina, celebrating his 100th Test cap, to chase but Argentina scrambled back to secure the ball before a wild pass from scrum-half Nicolas Vergallo went sailing dead in-goal. The All Blacks' pack drew a penalty at the subsequent scrum and with the game finely balanced Weepu stepped forward to double his side's advantage.
Argentina were afforded a chance to post an immediate reply when the All Blacks were penalised at a lineout but Contepomi pulled his 40m effort wide of the posts. But the Pumas didn't dwell on the disappointment. A great break from No.8 Leonardo Senatore on half ways took him away from Read and flanker Richie McCaw and up to the 22 where some great hands from Contepomi kept the ball alive. Support was swift in coming and as the All Blacks scrambled back, Farias Cabello charged over from close range for the opening try of the game. Contepomi made it a seven-point score with an excellent conversion and there was further bad news for New Zealand as Slade left the field to be replaced by Aaron Cruden.
But their lead was short-lived with a high tackle from Contepomi on Cruden as the replacement fly-half looked to step inside on the 22 leading to Weepu's third penalty. They went in search of another score before the break and while slow ball plagued their efforts cross the line, another penalty was given familiar treatment by Weepu.
Argentina picked up where they left off after the break with flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon galloping upfield only to concede a penalty by not releasing. But the All Blacks were also guilty of errors with a crossing infringement on half way resulting in a monster penalty from Bosch that brought his side to within two points.
The All Blacks response was swift with Jane and then inside centre Ma'a Nonu taking the game into the Pumas' 22 where Contepomi was penalised for going off his feet. Weepu's faultless display continued with a well-struck kick from the 22.
Another sweeping move almost saw All Blacks replacement Isaia Toeava put Williams away down the touchline with a desperate tackle from Gonzalo Camacho just enough to bring an end to stem the tide - but not for long. A great break from Nonu cut the Pumas' defence wide open and a neat exchange with Cruden took the All Blacks closer still. A cross kick from Weepu then found Cruden out on the touchline but he was bundled into touch by replacement Juan Jose Imhoff as he looked to touch the ball down.
There was little respite for the Pumas with the All Black forwards doing their bit to soften up a resolute defence and McCaw went close only to be denied by the TMO. But Vergallo was sent to the sin-bin for his part in the resistance and Weepu stroked over the simple penalty.
More gaps started to appear in the Pumas' defence as the game entered the final quarter with some excellent handling from McCaw the highlight of another formidable but fruitless raid. Vergallo returned with no further damage to the scoreboard but he could do little about a floating pass from Weepu that found flanker Jerome Kaino inside the 22 and he off-loaded to Read who exploited rare time and space to cross in the corner. Weepu's conversion fell short but his side had a healthy 13-point lead with a little over ten minutes left in the game.
Argentina's indiscipline prompted another warning from referee Nigel Owens a few minutes later and Weepu wasted no time landing his seventh penalty edging the All Blacks a little nearer the final four. However, there was no let up with Williams and Jane both doing superbly to keep the ball alive before Read popped a pass inside to Thorn who strolled over for a late try. With Weepu now withdrawn, Cruden added the conversion from out wide to add some further gloss to the scoreboard.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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