New Zealand have opened their Rugby Championship campaign with an emphatic 39-18 win over Argentina in Christchurch.
The three-time defending champions produced a performance on Friday night that was a marked improvement from their patchy win over Samoa last week.
There were some relentless passages of attack as they scored five tries and, without the ball, produced some strangling rushing defence.
They also managed to put the heat on the Pumas’ vaunted scrum.
Coach Steve Hansen was delighted with what he saw.
“It was a big step up from where we were,” he said.
“It has been a big week. A lot of people have been under pressure.
“Some individuals who probably haven’t played as well as they would have liked in Super Rugby and in last week’s Test match have stepped up.”
Hansen cited fullback Israel Dagg, second five-eighth Sonny Bill Williams, No.8 Kieran Read and lock Luke Romano as among those who deserved to be sitting in the changing shed happy with how they gone.
As for the All Blacks’ scrum superiority, Hansen said forwards coach Mike Cron deserve credit for work done over a number of years.
He also praised the guidance hooker Keven Mealamu had given new cap Codie Taylor, and the senior props to another young reserve in Nepo Laulala, over the week.
“Two young guys came on and we lost nothing in our scrummaging,” he said.
“It bodes well for the future.”
Taylor, who joined great-great-grandfather Walter Pringle as a New Zealand representative, got on the scoresheet, touching down after the All Blacks dominated a defensive Argentine scrum.
There was also an encouraging Test debut from winger Waisake Naholo, who was safe under the bomb and dangerous with ball in hand, producing one electric break.
The All Blacks took an early 6-3 lead before scoring the game’s opening try through skipper Richie McCaw.
McCaw opted for a kick to the corner from a penalty and the decision paid dividends.
The flanker – playing his 139th Test to go level with Australian George Gregan and behind just Irishman Brian O’Driscoll (141) in the list of most capped players – was on hand to finish off the ensuing lineout drive.
The home side then made a telling blow after the first-half hooter.
A long period of attack ended with centre Ma’a Nonu forcing his way over and Dan Carter’s sideline conversion made it a comfortable 18-6 lead.
Turning with the wind at their backs, the All Blacks continued with the job in the second spell.
Winger Charles Piutau finished off a clinical attack, before Read got the bonus-point try after a Pumas mistake deep in their own territory.
However, Argentina did show resilience to hit back with two quick tries to skipper Agustin Creevy when it looked like New Zealand would run away with the game.
Both four-pointers came from similar circumstances – a kick to the corner from a penalty and then a lineout maul that proved hard to stop.
However, the All Blacks finished strongly and opened out the gap again through Taylor’s try.