All Blacks back on top of the world after win over Argentina in Brisbane

New Zealand's Joe Moody runs at Argentina's Julian Montoya during the Rugby Championship test match in Brisbane. TERTIUS PICKARD/AP

The All Blacks will reflect on this 36-13 win over Argentina with a mixture of elation and frustration.

Despite scoring five tries to beat the Pumas at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night, which ensures they are at the top of the World Rugby rankings for the first time since 2019 and are now 10 points ahead of second-placed South Africa on the Rugby Championship table, the All Blacks dropped a gear in the second spell and got bogged down against the tenacious Pumas.

But this is a good news story, make no mistake.

Barring a spectacular meltdown in the two tests against the Springboks in Townsville and on the Gold Coast in the weeks ahead, the All Blacks are on target to secure the championship title for the first time since 2018.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster made 11 changes to the side that belted the Pumas 39-0 on the Gold Coast a week earlier, a calculated risk to keep men fresh, and despite having to repel a spirited sequence of attacks by their opponents in the final quarter he had little reason to lament that bold call.

The All Blacks’ set pieces were laced with steel – the scrum was brutal in the first spell, especially – and when that’s aligned with a desire to play with width and offload in contact it can be lethal.

Starving the Pumas of possession and territory, and refusing to play close to the rucks, enabled the All Blacks to strangle their opponents’ hopes of attacking and, as was the case a week earlier, the Pumas backs rarely had chances to be creative.

The All Blacks, with Ardie Savea back as captain and at No 7 and Damian McKenzie in just his second start at first five-eighth in a test, displayed moments of brilliance to score tries but could have had more if they had been more precise with their final transfer.

Within six minutes of the starter’s gun, lock Patrick Tuipulotu had secured the All Blacks’ first try, and in doing so gave the Pumas an early glimpse of the firepower stored inside the opposition’s arsenal.

Tuipulotu took a snappy pass from Savea ahead of his short journey, although it was the long run from No 8 Hoskins Sotutu that splintered the Pumas defence and created the opportunity.

The All Blacks fired two more warning shots within quick succession but, guess what, they were blanks; forward passes resulted in Will Jordan and Rieko Ioane having tries disallowed and more than a hint of frustration for their fans in the grandstands.

Sotutu was involved in the next try – a legal one – to TJ Perenara; a pass out of the boot of a scrum went to the halfback, and he darted through the Pumas defence like a hot needle piercing a blister.

Halfback Perenara may have also felt like jabbing the ego of Rieko Ioane a few minutes later when the big centre, having burst into daylight, inexplicably failed to pass to the man on his left shoulder and went solo before being penalised for a double movement.

But the Pumas still had problems. Lots of them. That they were unable to lash the All Blacks for those errors, a penalty by Emiliano Boffelli their only reward for 40 mins of toil, said plenty.

So, too, did the try to All Blacks lock Tupou Vaa’i – when Sotutu again provided the assist – a couple of minutes after the halftime hooter.

The All Blacks, on a penalty advantage, could have settled for an easy shot at goal. Instead they kept digging, and struck gold.

In doing so, they buried any hope the Pumas had of an upset.

A lovely try to left wing Emiliano Boffelli in the third quarter snapped a 200-minute drought for the Pumas but as the All Blacks’ try count grew, memories of the Argentinians’ stunning 25-15 victory over the All Blacks in November continued to fade.

All Blacks 36 (Tupou Vaa’i 2, Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenarai, Samisoni Taukei’aho tries; Jordie Barrett 4 con, pen) Argentina 13 (Emiliano Boffelli try, con, 2 pen). HT: 24-3.

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