The All Blacks crushed Argentina 38-0 Saturday to restore some pride as they roared back from two straight defeats to put one hand on the Tri Nations trophy.
The three-time world champions were under enormous pressure after slumping to the Wallabies then the Pumas, leaving them facing the prospect of losing three in a row for the first time in more than 20 years.
But spurred on by a backlash from their notoriously demanding fans, Ian Foster's team bounced back emphatically with a five tries to nil win in brutally hot and humid conditions at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, north of Sydney.
It was a far more disciplined All Blacks who dominated the first half, going to the break 10-0 ahead, but there were also missed opportunities with two tries disallowed.
Argentina, playing just days after the death of football legend Diego Maradona, lacked cohesion after making 10 changes to the team that drew with the Wallabies last week.
Two tries in quick succession from young fullback Will Jordan in the final quarter sealed the victory and a crucial bonus point for winning by three tries or more.
"It's extremely satisfying. There's no hiding that we've had tough few weeks, we felt the pain of the losses and I'm really proud of the work we have put in the last two weeks," said All Blacks captain Sam Cane.
"The way that the Pumas defended and kept us out numerous times is a real credit to their desire. But I'm proud of the way we were able to stay patient and we got there in the end."
It all but secured the silverware for New Zealand, who have 11 points from four games.
Australia play Argentina next week and either side could feasibly edge them out, but it would take a bonus point win and by a huge margin given New Zealand's vastly superior points differential.
Defeat brought Argentina's fairy-tale run to a shuddering halt in the tournament's penultimate round after they beat New Zealand 25-15 then battled to a 15-15 draw with Australia.
It proved extra painful for Mario Ledesma's men, who were hoping to lift the spirits of their nation after Maradona's death aged 60 this week.
Cane laid an All Blacks jersey emblazoned with Maradona's name and shirt number, 10, in the centre circle ahead of the kick-off as a mark of respect.
"We were not clinical, there were too many handling errors when we got the ball, some mistakes in defence as well, so not a good thing for us," said Pumas skipper Pablo Matera.
"I don't think that was the problem," he added, when asked about the team's wholesale changes. "It was a whole team thing. There were many, many mistakes."
: Boffelli, Cordero, Mallia, de la Fuente, Moyano, Sanchez, Ezcurra, Isa, Kremer, Matera, Paulos, Petti, Medrano, Montoya, Vivas.
: Socino, Tetaz Chaparro, Sordoni, Alemanno, Grondona, Bertranou, Carreras, Mensa.
B. Barrett, J. Barrett, Liernert-Brown, Goodhue, Clarke, Mo'unga, Smith, Savea, Cane, A. Ioane, Whitelock, S. Barrett, Laulala, Coles, Moody.
: Taylor, Tuinukuafe, Lomax, Tuipulotu, Sotutu, Perenara, R. Ioane, Jordan.
: Nic Berry (Australia)