In front of 89,019 spectators and an interested television audience in the Ireland camp as they target a quarter-final tie against either of these Pool C protagonists, the All Blacks had scrum-half Aaron Smith to thank for lifting them out of an ill-disciplined performance which had seen captain Richie McCaw and fellow veteran Conrad Smith both yellow carded late on in the opening half and Argentina take a 13-12 lead into the interval.
Only the left boot of Dan Carter had kept the All Blacks ticking over but it was the Pumas who took the plaudits after an absorbing opening 40 minutes, playing the brighter rugby and scoring the only try of the first period when lock Guido Petti crashed over from short range in the 21st minute, Nicolas Sanchez converting.
Surprisingly, New Zealand seemed rattled and it was their leader McCaw who highlighted their indiscipline by flicking a leg out off the ground to trip Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe as he attempted to take a quick tap and go penalty.
Sanchez slotted the penalty from close to halfway and added another from in front of the posts when Smith followed his captain into the bin eight minutes later as the All Blacks were briefly reduced to 13 men, 232 caps’ worth of experience watching from the naughty step.
Yet they also saw Carter slot his fourth penalty on the stroke of half-time and it was the champions who took over from there.
Sanchez replied with a penalty just after the break but it was Aaron Smith who brought the All Blacks to life, darting over for a converted try on 56 minutes and continuing to cause Argentina defensive headaches.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will have been reaching for the aspirin as well as his players butchered three try opportunities, Nehe Milner-Skudder and substitute flanker Sam Cane dropping passes with the line in front of them while Kieran Read was guilty of a forward pass out to McCaw as he lay in wait to score.
Cane made amends for his error to dot down in the 66th minute though and Carter’s conversion was the final movement on the scoreboard as New Zealand closed the game out and saw off their most dangerous group rivals in comfortable fashion in the end at least.
B Smith; N Milner-Skudder (B Barrett, 50), C Smith, M Nonu (S B Williams, 45), J Savea; D Carter, A Smith (TJ Perenara, 68); T Woodcock (W Crockett, 45), D Coles (K Mealamu, 68), O Franks (C Faumuina, 50); B Retallick (V Vito, 71), S Whitelock; J Kaino (S Cane, 64), R McCaw – captain; K Read.
J Tuculet (L Amorosino, 69); S Cordero, M Bosch, JM Hernandez, J Imhoff; N Sanchez (J De la Fuente, 68), T Cubelli (M Landajo, 61); M Ayerza, A Creevy – captain (L Noguera, 69), F Chaparro (R Herrera, 54); G Petti Pagadizabal (M Galarza, 23), T Lavanini; P Matera (JM Leguizamón, 58), JM Fernández Lobbe, L Senatore (J Montoya, 64).
Wayne Barnes (England)