New Zealand beat Argentina 21-5 to lead the Rugby Championship at the halfway stage, as Australia rallied to defeat South Africa 26-19 for its first victory in the expanded southern hemisphere tournament.
Wingers Julian Savea and Cory Jane touched down for the world champion All Blacks in the last 13 minutes to seal the win in wet and windy conditions in Wellington last night. Fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the other 11 points, while prop Rodrigo Roncero drove over for Argentina’s try.
“In the second half we spent most of the time at the right end of the field and that pressure told in the end,” All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said in a televised interview. “We got our game going.”
No. 1-ranked New Zealand, which led 6-5 at half time, tops the standings with 12 points after three of six rounds, a lead of five over South Africa, with Australia on four points and Argentina on two. The Springboks in 2005 are the only team to win their first three matches of the Tri-Nations, the competition’s forerunner, and not secure the title. Argentina joined the championship this year.
The Wallabies, who were criticized in the Australian media following back-to-back losses to the All Blacks, trailed 13-6 at halftime in Perth before rallying with tries from replacement loose forward Scott Higginbotham and prop Ben Alexander. Inside center Berrick Barnes kicked four penalties and two conversions for a perfect record from his shots at goal as Australia scored its record fifth straight win over the Springboks.
Winger Bryan Habana scored South Africa’s only try, while Morne Stenyn added two penalties and a conversion and Frans Steyn booted two penalties.
“We got behind three times but responded in each instance with some good character,” Wallabies coach Robbie Deans said in a televised interview. “In a testy situation, they showed good composure.”
Alexander broke a 19-19 tie with 11 minutes remaining with a 15-meter charge down the narrow side as Wallabies captain Will Genia lay stricken near halfway with a knee injury. The television match official confirmed that Alexander had grounded the ball and Barnes converted from the sideline.
Scrum-half Genia said after the match that he twisted his knee when taking a high ball and “heard a few cracks.” Genia ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and will be sidelined for as long as six months, the team said on its Twitter account today. Australia has already lost first-choice skipper James Horwill and his deputy David Pocock this season to injuries.
“It’s quite sore but we’ll see how it pulls up,” Genia said at a post-match interview he conducted on crutches. Brett Sheehan was added to the squad as cover for Genia and will join Nick Phipps as the scrum-half options.
At Westpac Stadium, the All Blacks led by a point at the break as both teams struggled for control in the rain and swirling gusts.
Cruden, who was called into the starting lineup two days ago after Dan Carter injured his calf, missed a third-minute penalty from out wide before making it 3-0 from in front of the posts five minutes later. The Pumas took a 5-3 lead in the 13th minute when Roncero drove through two All Blacks tacklers close to the line.
Cruden put the home team back in front with a 40-meter penalty. All Blacks flanker Victor Vito was denied a score in the corner by a try-saving tackle by Pumas center Marcelo Bosch just before halftime, when a floodlight failure kept the players off for an extra 10 minutes.
“It was a bit weird but the big thing was to keep your mind on the job,” McCaw said. “I thought we did that well.”
Cruden booted the first points of the second half to make it 9-5. Argentina went down to 14 men temporarily after an hour when flanker Julio Farias Cabello was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock down that may have deprived the All Blacks of a try-scoring opportunity.
Savea touched down in the 67th minute after Conrad Smith drew several defenders and passed to center partner Ma’a Nonu, who offloaded for the winger to score his fourth try in his third Test. Six minutes later, Jane went over in the opposite corner after collecting a long, looping pass from Cruden, who added the conversion from the touchline to close the scoring.
“It was very, very tough the intensity today,” Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said in a televised interview. “We’re playing against the top three teams in the world and our goal is to always improve.”
Argentina travels to Australia next to play the Wallabies in the Gold Coast on Sept. 15, when New Zealand hosts South Africa in Dunedin.
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