BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – New Zealand won their third straight Rugby Championship title on Saturday after two tries from winger Rieko Ioane helped them to a 35-17 victory over Argentina in Velez Sarsfield.
The bonus-point win clinched the title – a 16th in the various versions of the southern hemisphere championship – with a game to spare for the world champions in what was a scrappy but well-deserved victory.
New Zealand, looking to bounce back after a home loss to South Africa two weeks ago, went behind to a Nicolas Sanchez penalty after just five minutes but after Ioane had put the visitors ahead two minutes later they never looked back.
Waisake Naholo went over in 16 minutes, Ioane scored the All Blacks’ third 11 minutes before half time and Beauden Barrett put away all three conversions as Argentina’s handling errors contributed to a 21-3 deficit at the break.
All Blacks captain Sam Whitelock said their first try set them on their way.
“I thought that we started really well, didn’t have the ball in the first bit but when we got our first opportunity we scored and the boys really took that and built as the game went on,” he added.
Sonny Bill Williams was given a yellow card four minutes before half-time but the home side could not take advantage and replacement Patrick Tuipulotu added a fourth New Zealand try, converted again by Barrett, after 54 minutes.
That sparked a mini-revival by the home side as first scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli and then Emiliano Boffelli scored tries, both of which were converted by Sanchez, who had a poor night by his standards, missing one easy penalty early in the first half.
New Zealand got a fifth try when replacement Anton Lienert-Brown chased down a kick with eight minutes left.
The bonus point win lifted the All Blacks on to 21 points, seven more than South Africa, who beat Australia 23-12 in Port Elizabeth earlier on Saturday.
It also extended New Zealand’s unbeaten run against the Pumas to 28 games.
Cubelli said that Argentina had not done themselves justice.
They’re the best in the world, it’s no surprise,” he added of the visitors.
“We weren’t the team that we can be. We upped our energy levels a bit in the second half but you can’t come back against opponents like these. We need to learn from that.
“We didn’t know how to handle the pressure very well. That’s another lesson.”
Argentina, who have claimed two victories in the Championship this year, the first time since joining the tournament in 2012, were a work in progress, added Cubelli.
“We’re not happy, but looking at the big picture, we’re on the right track,” he said.