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The All Blacks have virtually sewn up the 2013 Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship with a late try to Ben Smith sealing a bonus point 33-15 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning (AEST).
New Zealand had to overcome some determined home defensive resistance before getting the vital bonus point try which allows them to go to Ellis Park next week to face the Springboks with a five point cushion on the points table.
To win the Rugby Championship South Africa will now need to defeat the All Blacks by seven points and score four tries, while stopping the All Blacks scoring four tries.
The All Blacks only led 11-9 at half time through an opportunist try to Julian Savea but took control in the second half, as they lifted the tempo of the game and Argentina struggled to cope.
It was a bruising first half with little chance for dominance to be achieved. Argentina's set piece play was vastly improved on that seen in Hamilton earlier in the competition with the lineout tidier and the scrum as powerful as ever.
But on 22 minutes Argentina's failure to control a high mid-field kick saw the ball knocked on and wing Savea picked up the ball, beat the tackle attempt of lock Juan Cabello, and sprinted 60 metres down the left hand touchline to score.
Play was held up while the TMO was consulted on two points, and then when the try was awarded Aaron Cruden was given a second attempt at the conversion after an early charge by Argentina.
There was also laser interference from the crowd as he prepared for the utlimately unsuccessful kick.
No such problems for home kicker, flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez who landed three penalty goals but the All Blacks still led by two points at half time 11-9.
But Argentina actually took the lead early in the second half.
After winning a penalty from a scrum on halfway when their re-start kick went too long, centre Marcello Bosch landed the goal from 51 metres to put Argentina up 12-11.
The lead was momentary as Argentina infringed in a maul and Cruden landed his third penalty goal to put the All Blacks back out to 14-12.
From there it was all black for the Pumas. The breakthrough came after a sustained period of continuity play in the Argentinian 22m area.
After played ranged across field and back, with some powerful driving, the ball emerged on the flank where flanker Sam Cane went over wide out for the try.
It was just reward for Cane who showed during the game how much his game has advanced.
Moments later, in the 55th minute, a superb play from a short lineout saw inside centre Ma'a Nonu do a double pump with the ball, resulting in a short pass being taken by wing Smith who stepped fullback Juan Martin Hernandez and sped to the line.
The conversion took New Zealand to a 26-12 lead.
New Zealand went looking for the bonus point try but met stern resistance from the home side who also landed their fifth penalty goal, the fourth of the game to Sanchez.
Then with the clock winding down New Zealand were awarded a penalty on the Argentina 22m line.
The All Blacks kicked for the corner, controlled the lineout ball and replacement halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow delayed a pass momentarily for Smith to charge into the line and beat the tackles of Felipe Contemponi and Sanchez to score under the posts.
The try was Smith's seventh in the tournament to date to see him sprint clear at the top of the try scorers' list.
The Highlanders fullback-come-winger is four tries clear of the unlikely no.2 on the table: Pumas No.8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon who has a treble.
A host of players are further back on a double: Aaron Smith, Julian Savea, Keiran Read and Sam Cane from the All Blacks; Bismarck du Plessis, Adriaan Strauss, Willie le Roux, Zane Kirchner and Jean de Villers of South Africa; and Israel Folau of the Qantas Wallabies.
The Pumas next game, their last in this year's Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship, is the battle for third place against the Qantas Wallabies in Rosario next Sunday morning (AEST).
Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship
Full Time Score
New Zealand 33 (Julian Savea, Sam Cane, Ben Smith 2 tries; Aaron Cruden 2 con, 3 pen ) defeated Argentina 15 (Nicolas Sanchez 4 pen, Marcello Bosch pen ) at La Plata in Buenos Aires. (Half Time: Argentina 9 New Zealand 11)
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