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All Blacks dispatch Los Pumas to top Rugby Championship table

By Alex McLeod

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The All Blacks have consolidated their healthy lead at the top of the Rugby Championship by securing a 36-13 victory over Los Pumas at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

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A week after they trounced the Argentines 39-0 on the Gold Coast, the All Blacks put their South American counterparts to the sword again in the Queensland capital as they ran in four tries to one in a mixed display with an understrength team.

All Blacks boss Ian Foster made 11 changes to his starting lineup from last week’s win, and while it wasn’t the most polished display from what was effectively a back-up squad, the second-string XV did plenty to ensure the Kiwis walked away with a bonus-point win.

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Perhaps the biggest standout for the men in black was Rieko Ioane, who was one of the few players to retain his place in the starting lineup but validated his retention with yet another sublime showing in the No 13 jersey.

Ioane’s pace, acceleration and line-running made life difficult for the Argentines, and his work alongside fellow stars Damian McKenzie and Will Jordan in the backline made for entertaining viewing.

McKenzie dominated the headlines in the lead-up to the match for his selection at No 10 as Foster made use of his limited playmaking options in the absence of incumbent first-five Richie Mo’unga.

It was just the second time McKenzie had started at No 10 for the All Blacks in his 35-test career, but the 26-year-old controlled proceedings well as he put those around him into space and kicked out of hand accurately.

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The match also presented Hoskins Sotutu with a chance to start at No 8, which has been a rarity for him this season due to the form of the first-choice loose forward trio of Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Ardie Savea, as well as back-up option Luke Jacobson.

Sotutu took his chance well, though, as he played a key role in the first try of the contest by making a darting run through the middle of the unguarded ruck before setting Jordan away with a deftly-timed pass.

Jordan was denied the chance to add to his incredible try-scoring record at test level by some desperate covering Argentine defence, but lock Patrick Tuipulotu was on hand to crash over from short range one phase later.

Jordan could have scored again not long afterwards, but the pass he received from hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho to set him free was ruled forward.

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Another forward pass, thrown by Jordan, a few minutes after that robbed Ioane the opportunity to score his 31st test try after McKenzie put his side into a good attacking position from a midfield chip kick.

Those missed chances to add to their scoreline may be a source of frustration for the All Blacks coaches, but the number of opportunities presented to the New Zealanders was plentiful, and it soon cost Argentina as TJ Perenara and Tupou Vaa’i both scored in the final 15 minutes of the first half.

A solitary penalty to Los Pumas wing Emiliano Boffelli in the eighth minute was his side’s only contribution to the 24-3 half-time score.

Boffelli doubled his team’s score with another penalty four minutes after the break, but Taukei’aho was on hand to cap off a clinical showing of distribution skills by the All Blacks to score just two minutes later.

It was at that point Foster opted to bring an array of fresh faces into the fray, and that stagnated his side’s progress for much of the second half as their continuity was impacted negatively and allowed the Argentines to work their way back into the match.

First-five Santiago Carreras, normally a wing or fullback, lofted a wishful cross-field kick out to Boffelli after the Argentines entered deep into New Zealand territory, and the latter swooped after the ball to dot down acrobatically in the left-hand corner.

He converted his own try to bring the deficit to 16 points, and that buffer could have been slashed even further as Los Pumas continued to apply pressure on the Kiwis, only for midfielder Santiago Chocobarres to throw a cut ball to nobody 10 metres from the opposition tryline.

It was in that part of the field where Argentina remained for a large portion of the second half, and the All Blacks were forced to defend frantically and concede a number of penalties in a bid to defend their line.

The Kiwi resistance proved successful as Los Pumas failed to cross the line for the remainder of the match, with the New Zealanders even crossing for one last try scored by Vaa’i.

Nevertheless, Mario Ledesma’s men can be proud of their second half effort as they managed to chalk up some points on the board, something they failed to do in their last two outings against the Kiwis.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, will take this result with a grain of salt – pleased to walk away with the expected five competition points but disappointed with their drop in form in the second half.

The numerous try-scoring opportunities that went begging, which included Finlay Christie’s spilled ball over the line in the second half, will also be a point of concern, although the strength of their set piece and tireless performance of rookie flanker Ethan Blackadder will have been pleasing.

Foster should also take some satisfaction from the long-awaited injury returns of prop Ofa Tuungafasi and utility back Braydon Ennor, both of whom made their first test appearances of the year from the bench.

All Blacks 36 (Tries to Patrick Tuipulotu, TJ Perenara, Tupou Vaa’i (2), Samisoni Taukei’aho; 4 conversions and penalty for Jordie Barrett)

Los Pumas 13 (Try to Emiliano Boffelli; conversion and 2 penalties to Boffelli)

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All Blacks dispatch Los Pumas to top Rugby Championship table

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