New Zealand survive Argentina scare to maintain perfect Rugby Championship record
Argentina gave New Zealand a real scare before the All Blacks showed their world-champion quality in coming back to secure a 39-22 Rugby Championship win on Saturday.
The Pumas came into this clash in New Plymouth having never beaten their hosts in 24 previous meetings but with 50 minutes played they led 22-15 thanks to a full house from Nicolas Sanchez and two monster penalties from Emiliano Boffelli.
Beauden Barrett had failed to convert any of the All Blacks' three first-half tries and his day did not get much better as he was sin-binned for the transgression that allowed Sanchez to give the visitors that seven-point advantage.
But without their influential fly-half on the field, the hosts were able to pull level thanks to a stunning try from flanker Vaea Fifita on his first start, a finish more in keeping with that of a back-line flyer.
Damian McKenzie's try, the boot of replacement Lima Sopoaga and a score from the returning Barrett saw the tide turn further in favour of the home side in the closing stages to give the final scoreline a cruel twist.
The All Blacks will aim to maintain their perfect record in this year's championship when they welcome South Africa next weekend, while Argentina will attempt to earn their first win against Australia in Canberra.
Nehe Milner-Skudder's last Test appearance came in the World Cup final two years ago but he wasted less than 10 minutes in celebrating his return, cruising over on the left following McKenzie's break.
Sanchez's boot got the visitors on the board but the All Blacks were quick to go back on the offensive and went over for a second time as a sliding Anton Lienert-Brown just managed to dot down Barrett's grubber before it crossed the dead-ball line.
By way of response, Boffelli knocked over a penalty from inside his own half and the deficit was cut to one point after Sanchez slotted a drop-goal.
A sustained spell of New Zealand pressure resulted in Israel Dagg crossing on the right but Sanchez - who had been guilty of complaining to the referee instead of defending that score - redeemed himself almost immediately.
With the clock beyond 40 minutes, the All Blacks lost their line-out deep inside their 22 and the Pumas took full advantage, Sanchez crashing over before converting to give his side the narrowest of half-time leads.
Boffelli maintained that momentum with another massive kick early in the second period and although Sanchez subsequently missed from shorter range, Barrett saw yellow for the latest in a string of All Black infringements close to the line.
The Pumas took the easy kick and a 22-15 advantage rather than a scrum and it was a decision they were left to rue as Fifita, with seemingly little on, showed the pace and power of a winger to scorch round the outside of the defence en route to the left corner.
Sopoaga converted to level before missing a kick for the lead, but the hosts retained their composure and worked the ball left for McKenzie to dive over.
McKenzie was denied a second due to a forward pass following another scintillating Fifita break, but Sopoaga slotted a penalty and Barrett ended a mixed outing on a high as the All Blacks finished with a trademark flourish.