BUENOS AIRES: Depleted New Zealand survived a second-half onslaught from Argentina to win a Rugby Championship first round match 20-16 in Buenos Aires Saturday.
After trailing by 11 points at half-time, the Pumas kept the All Blacks scoreless in the second half only to fail narrowly in their quest for a first victory over the world champions.
New Zealand chalked up a 450th Test win despite resting many of the Canterbury Crusaders stars who won a third consecutive Super Rugby title two weeks ago.
Clinical finishing helped the All Blacks to a 20-9 half-time advantage, but the Pumas scored early in the second half to leave just four points separating the teams.
Playmaker Nicolas Sanchez missed a kickable penalty soon after that would have reduced the gap to a single point before a large, passionate home crowd.
A measure of the dominance of the hosts was that it took the visiting side 33 minutes of the second half to get into the Argentine 22.
At the death, the Pumas forced two lineouts close to the All Blacks line, but the try that would have given them a historic victory proved elusive.
New Zealand gave first caps to run-on winger Sevu Reece and substitutes Atu Moli, Luke Jacobson and Braydon Ennor, and coach Steve Hansen was generally pleased.
“I observed a lot of things, and most of them were positive,” said the 2015 World Cup-winning coach.
“These are young guys and they were thrust into Test rugby in one of the most intimidating sporting environments in the world.
“We were rusty at times which can be partly explained by the fact that we were testing new combinations.
“I thought our defending was outstanding, but we let a few scoring opportunities slip. We will grow from here in the Rugby Championship.”
Argentina made an encouraging start with Sanchez and Emiliano Boffelli slotting penalties inside seven minutes for a six-point lead at Estadio Jose Amalfitani.
The home team squandered a chance to increase the advantage when a brilliant Reece tackle on Marcos Kremer forced the Puma flanker to knock-on with the line at his mercy.
New Zealand scored the first of two opening-half tries on 18 minutes with Ngani Laumape powering over between the posts after a quick Aaron Smith tap penalty.
Beauden Barrett converted and the All Blacks had a 7-6 advantage that lasted only two minutes before a second Sanchez penalty nudged Argentina ahead again.
But those proved to be the last points scored by the South Americans in the half as New Zealand took control to add 13 unanswered points through a converted try and two penalties.
Brodie Retallick scored the try and Barrett kicked the conversion and two penalties to take him past 600 points in his Test career.
The try, a minute before half-time, stunned the home crowd as Retallick intercepted a Sanchez pass and ran unchallenged to the line.
It was a bitter blow for Argentina, who did not deserve to be trailing by 11 points as they ran off the field.
Argentina need to strike first in the second half to get back into contention and they did on 47 minutes when Boffelli won an aerial duel with Ben Smith and scored.
Sanchez, the architect of the try with a perfectly weighted lofted kick toward the tryline, converted.