ABs retain title

WELLINGTON – The All Blacks wrapped up their third successive Rugby Championship crown with a comprehensive 34-13 win over Argentina in La Plata yesterday.

First half tries to Ben Smith and Israel Dagg gave the All Blacks a 20-6 halftime lead, then Julian Savea and replacement halfback TJ Perenara crossed in the second spell to secure the bonus point win at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata.

While Argentina looked good with the ball in hand, poor discipline in the tackle meant they conceded possession too easily and the All Blacks made them pay.

Beauden Barrett, in at five-eighth for the errant Aaron Cruden, extinguished memories of a sub-par goalkicking performance in Napier three weeks earlier in sinking six from six.

Boosted by the return of key forwards Sam Whitelock and Jerome Kaino from injury, the All Blacks proved lethal on the counterattack, both first half tries highlighting their up-tempo approach.

Ben Smith finished off a slick backline move after 12 minutes, and an immaculately timed pass from Savea slicing open Argentina’s defence before Dagg found Ben Smith with a neat inside ball for the try.

Argentina worked their way back into the match, but their willingness to run the ball was rewarded by only a Nicolas Sanchez penalty as the All Blacks’ defence held strong.

Four-Test centre Malakai Fekitoa impressed in replacing injured second five-eighth Ma’a Nonu, looking defensively sound and dangerous with the ball in hand.

Fekitoa sparked the All Blacks second try as 26 minutes ticked over, a sweetly timed pass sending centre Conrad Smith into space down the right before Ben Smith popped the pass for Dagg to touch down.

The All Blacks now travel to Johannesburg for next Sunday’s final Rugby Championship match against South Africa at Ellis Park.

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