Aaron Smith ignited a late revival as the All Blacks overhauled Argentina to start their Rugby World Cup defence with a 26-16 victory before a record crowd at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
The Pumas threatened an upset when they led 13-12 at half-time and jumped to a 16-12 advantage early in the second spell.
The All Blacks superior possession advantage was crushed in a vice-like defence.
But the gallant Pumas were worn down by the black machine in a fractious clash which saw three players yellow carded including All Blacks’ skipper Richie McCaw for the third time in his 143-Test career.
McCaw admitted that his side had to dig deep to get back into the game.
But he said: “I thought the second half was a lot more clinical.”
The All Blacks played nearly 20 minutes with a man down and with a two-man deficit for a few minutes when Conrad Smith was sent off before McCaw returned to the battle.
But any hopes Argentina had of emulating Japan’s stunning victory over South Africa evaporated in the 56th minute when halfback Aaron Smith darted around the side of a ruck for the All Blacks opening try.
It revived the world champions who followed with a try to Sam Cane. Dan Carter converted both tries and landed four penalties.
Argentina’s first half lead was built on a try by 20-year-old lock Guido Petti converted by Nicolas Sanchez who also kicked two penalties.
In the second spell Argentina were restricted to one further Sanchez penalty.
Before a capacity 89,019 at Wembley, a record World Cup crowd, New Zealand were expected to win and wanted to make an emphatic statement.
But they could not have been happy with their inability to breakdown the Argentina defence despite dominating possession and territory.
Julian Savea, who went into the match with eight tries from six previous Tests against Argentina, was starved of the ball for most of the match.
The All Blacks opening points all came from Carter penalties as Argentina, struggling for territory, were forced into a series of infringements.
The second of Carter’s four first half penalties came when Argtentina flanker Pablo Matera was yellow-carded, but it was Argentina who made the most of the one-man difference.
After Carter landed a third penalty to put the All Blacks ahead 9-0, the 14-man Argentina produced the opening try with Petti, the baby of the Pumas side, crashing over from close range.
They took the lead when McCaw was sent off for tripping Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and five-eighth Sanchez, who had converted Petti’s try, kicked a 50 metre penalty to put the Pumas ahead 10-9.
Sanchez and Carter traded further penalties before half-time and the Argentine marksmen landed his third penalty soon after the resumption to extend the Pumas lead to 16-12.
Sonny Bill Williams was injected into the game to add spark to the All Blacks’ attack and nearly paid instant dividends when he flicked the ball to an unmarked Nehe Milner-Skudder a metre from the line. But the winger dropped the ball.
However, it was a sign that the All Blacks were starting to gain an edge as they upped the pace of the game.
They regained the lead in the 56th minute with Smith’s try, Cane followed him over the line and Carter kicked both conversions.