Argentina 15 New Zealand 33
Ben Smith scored his second try moments from time to earn New Zealand a vital bonus point as they put one hand firmly on the Rugby Championship trophy with a 33-15 victory over Argentina in La Plata.
The All Blacks, who began the match level on points with South Africa after the Springboks’ win over Australia, failed to assert themselves in the first half but led by two at the break thanks to Julian Savea’s score.
But the game was ended as a contest by two tries in five minutes early in the second half from Sam Cane and Ben Smith, who then touched down moments from the end to secure the bonus point.
That put the All Blacks five points clear of South Africa, meaning they just have to avoid a bonus-point defeat in Johannesburg next week to claim the trophy.
In a cagey opening, Marcelo Bosch made a mess of a penalty attempt from his own half and Nicolas Sanchez missed a drop-goal attempt.
But two two penalties from Sanchez, sandwiching a reply from Aaron Cruden, deservedly put Argentina 6-3 up.
In the 20th minute Sanchez had the chance to extend that lead further but he pulled his kick wide of the posts.
Argentina paid the price for their missed opportunities when Savea picked up a loose ball in midfield and sprinted down the left to cross for the game’s first try – confirmed after lengthy deliberation by the video official about a potential offside.
Cruden missed the conversion, though, even after been allowed to take it a second time when he was distracted by a laser from the crowd.
Cruden got a chance to redeem himself moments later with another penalty attempt and, though he appeared to scuff it slightly, he sent the ball over and New Zealand led 11-6.
Good work by Argentina at the scrum gave Sanchez another chance though and he took advantage to cut the deficit to two.
Bosch slotted over from halfway as Argentina edged ahead at the start of the second period, but Cruden responded immediately.
The key moment came after 51 minutes when New Zealand crossed for their second try.
The All Blacks worked the ball the width of the field, outflanking the Pumas as they eventually found Sam Cane – after good work from Ma’a Nonu – to dot down in the corner.
Cruden sliced the conversion wide, but Nonu was again involved moments later as New Zealand crossed again.
Nonu did brilliantly to dummy, then time his pass for Ben Smith, who had all the time in the world as he advanced on the line. This time from a central position Cruden made no mistake and all of a sudden New Zealand led 26-12.
Sanchez kicked a penalty to stop the rot for Argentina, who then had a huge let-off when Savea, chasing a kick from Conrad Smith, fumbled the ball yards from the line.
But with less than 30 seconds remaining, Ben Smith forced his way through for the all important bonus point.
Number eight Kieran Read told Sky Sports 2: “That could be crucial. We worked hard for that and we were lucky to get it at the end.
“It’s gonna be a big match next week. We’ve just got to take the positives. The second half was good and we’ll build on that.”