Rugby World Cup title holders New Zealand were forced to come from behind to take a 26-16 win over Argentina on Sunday.
A first ever win for the Pumas over the All Blacks would perhaps not have matched Japan’s earlier shock victory over two-time champions South Africa, but it would have shown the defending champions were not infallible.
It was by no means plain sailing for New Zealand, and only after scrum-half Aaron Smith scored a late-try in the 57th minute did they look in control for the first time in the game, having trailed Argentina 13-12 at halftime.
“I guess that’s what you expect first up. I thought that second half was a lot more clinical,” said New Zealand captain Richie McCaw. “It’s been a while since our last game and we’ve been over here for 10 days or so, so we were itching to get out there and get started.”
“We’ll have to make a few improvements but that’s the nature of rugby.”
Referee Wayne Barnes, the Englishman blamed by the Kiwis for their controversial exit from the 2007 World Cup despite being the then tournament favourites, was reunited with the All Blacks at a near-capacity filled Wembley stadium in London.
But no one could fault Barnes this time for handing McCaw a yellow card for sticking out his right leg to intentionally trip Juan Martinez Fernandez Lobbe, before then sin-binning Conrad Smith for hands in the ruck.
Argentine lock Guido Petti took opportunity of the All Blacks being down to 13 men to claim a fast try from close range, but was then off the pitch just as quickly when he realised he had sustained a head injury when touching down.
Nicolas Sanchez continued his side’s good run of points by kicking three more penalties to bring his tally to 11, but Argentina had more trouble breaking the All Blacks’ defense in the second half.
New Zealand regrouped after the break, and while Pablo Matera was sin-binned for preventing a likely try, Daniel Carter claimed three penalties to put the title holders back in contention.
Though the Kiwi fans then endured a brief period of misery as Owen Franks was caught offside and Sanchez made his third penalty, Carter kicked his fourth to put the All Blacks back ahead.
New Zealand’s first try came shortly after, when Marcelo Bosch was penalised for offside and Smith skirted past the maul to evade Cubelli and score.
A pass by Kieran Read proved too far ahead of McCaw to be picked up, and though both sides were tiring, replacement Cane was unlucky to drop an offload by Smith while in the next phase, Argentina over-committed to give Cane a chance at redemption for his earlier miss.
Cane managed on his second attempt and Carter converted to cement a New Zealand victory, albeit one which was, at times, far from certain.