Missing a host of their usual starters, there were questions over how the New Zealand side would front against an Argentinean team in which 20 of 23 played alongside each other for the Jaguares. Those questions were answered with a far from perfect, but victorious performance.
The All Blacks were missing all of their Crusaders players, apart from debutants Sevu Reece, who started on the right wing, and replacement back Braydon Ennor, and that lack of quality and experience showed in the second half as the visitors were held scoreless.
But All Blacks coach Steve Hansen found many positives from the match, including the tense test-match experience gained by the rookies.
“When you take all the leadership we’ve taken out with all the Crusaders not here…to have the opportunity for this group to go through with what they went through today is like winning the Lotto,” said Hansen.
“Our accuracy and combinations weren’t there but they stayed in the moment and trusted themselves. We left four or five (tries) out there. We’ve learnt a lot about a lot of people this week…both new and old.”
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Hansen said the All Blacks got “exactly what they expected” in the 20-16 win.
“You can’t just snap your fingers and get the end result just like that,” Hansen said. “It takes time and timing and time together. It’s the same with defence, we tweaked a few things there and once you go past that, what you want from them is them to be able to show you that they can get out there in the heat of the battle and do that job that you ask them to do.”
First-half tries to Ngani Laumape and Brodie Retallick, along with a flawless kicking performance from Beauden Barrett gave the All Blacks a 20-6 lead at half time, but the side was held scoreless in the second period as their attack staggered.
The All Blacks were loose at times with their handling and concession of silly penalties, and it almost cost them at the end as the Pumas had the ball inside the All Blacks’ 22 when the final hooter sounded, but were not able to capitalise.
It was arguably the best chance the Pumas had ever had to score an upset over the All Blacks, but instead remain without a win over the Kiwi side in their 29-match history.
“You leave eight or nine of your top line players out, your second group comes together and plays for the first time in 4, 5, maybe 6 weeks, had a couple of weeks to try get ready for the test match – so at times we were a bit rusty,” Hansen said. “But we did a lot of good things and I thought one of the greatest things we did was at the end with all the young fellas on, we showed a lot of mental fortitude so I was really pleased with that.”
The side now turns their attention to a date with South Africa in Wellington next weekend, which could see the coaches play the strategy game in their team selection, with the two meeting in the opening game of the rugby World Cup later this year.
South Africa started their Rugby Championship campaign with a dominant 35-17 win against Australia in Johannesburg.
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