All Blacks with one hand on Tri Nations trophy after wonder kid punishes sloppy Pumas

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

Only a miracle next weekend in Sydney will deny the All Blacks the Tri Nations trophy, after Ian Foster's men bounced back from consecutive defeats to smash Los Pumas 38-0 in Newcastle.

It leaves the Wallabies the all but impossible task of wrestling some previous silverware off their trans-Tasman neighbours, with Dave Rennie's men needing a lazy 101 point win next weekend in western Sydney to pip the All Blacks on points differential.

Even still, with rugby set for a reboot in Australia next year with a new broadcaster in Nine and streaming platform Stan and optimism abound given a new coach is in charge, it's vital the Wallabies finish the year on a high and beat the Pumas - something they couldn't do during their frustrating 15-15 draw a week ago.

The three-time world champions had come under a barrage of criticism over the past fortnight after their shock 25-15 loss to the Pumas meant they had suffered consecutive defeats for the first time in almost a decade.

It meant Foster's All Blacks went into their final match of the year with the daunting prospect of losing three straight Tests for the first time since 1998.

Quickly those fears evaporated in the blazing Australian heat, as temperatures soared to almost 40 degrees Celsius on the eve of summer. 

On match eve, All Blacks captain Sam Cane issued the Pumas a warning by declaring a state of “grumpiness” within their camp had been fostering throughout their squad since the shock loss to the Pumas a fortnight ago. He added they would do everything in their power to make sure they enjoyed their summer ahead without the embarrassment of a hat-trick of defeats hanging over their heads.

And that is, indeed, how the All Blacks played as they dominated the Pumas – astonishingly undefeated in their opening two Tests – in every aspect of the game to relieve the pressure on under-siege coach.

The All Blacks took a 10-0 lead into half-time on the back of a Dane Coles try and Richie Mo'unga penalty, but it could have been double that score as Foster’s men bombed chance after chance.

That theme continued for much of the second half, as they only had Ardie Savea's five-pointer to show for more than 75 per cent possession.

But eventually the Pumas cracked just as the Wallabies would have been daring to dream that the Tri Nations would be open for the taking a week later.

Exciting replacement back Will Jordan, who for the past two years has dominated Super Rugby for the Crusaders, scored a quick-fire double and Patrick Tuipulotu marched his way through a giant hole in the 85th minute to give the All Blacks a precious bonus point.

"It's extremely satisfying," Cane said.

"There's no hiding that we've had a tough three weeks now. We had a week off and we felt the pain of the loss. Incredibly proud of the work we've put in in the last two weeks."

The All Blacks - except for their finishing for the opening hour - were at their ferocious and creative best, as they perfectly mixed their game between ferocious defence, skillful kicking and a dominant set-piece.

But even though Cane paid tribute to the Pumas' gallant defensive efforts, the South Americans were miles off the pace in their third Test in as many weeks.

They regularly turned over possession, their scrum was smashed and Nicolas Sanchez - perfect in the opening two Tests - had a nightmare, as he kicked terribly and was guilty of dropping balls too.

"The scoreboard probably doesn't reflect the first 60 minutes," Cane said.

"Will Jordan, he's got an uncanny ability to get the ball into open space, so awesome for him to come on and have such impact.

"But the way that the Pumas defended and kept us out numerous times is a real credit to their desperation and their desire.

"I'm proud of the way that we were able to stay patient. We didn't allow that to frustrate us - not getting across the line - and we stayed patient and got there in the end."

The bonus point win saw the All Blacks move to 11 points on the Tri Nations standings – five ahead of the Pumas and Wallabies.

But given their outstanding points differential, the Wallabies, or Pumas, will need to rack up a cricket score to mow the All Blacks down.

Cane, who had copped plenty of criticism for his stinging rebuke to his own fans a week earlier, said he was proud of his side's response under pressure.

"It's tough and there's pressure but that's what playing for the All Blacks is all about," the first-year captain said.

"I'm proud of the way the group's stayed tight. In camp we've been a happy group, very driven and worked extremely hard to get better and I thought we were a lot better tonight."

The All Blacks, who struggled to break the Pumas' line during their 25-15 loss a fortnight ago, made their intensions clear early by kicking regularly.

Playmakers Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett regularly put in chip kicks and cross-field kicks to manipulate the Pumas' defence and make them second guess themselves. The tactics, which were also used during their 43-5 drubbing of the Wallabies last month, worked a treat.

Playmaker Sanchez, who had scored all of the Pumas' 40 points during their win and draw, was far from his best, making three mistakes from the boot and dropping a simple pass in attack.

His charged down kick led to the opening try, as Dane Coles dived over out wide in the 11th minute out wide from a Richie Mo'unga cut-out pass. Extraordinarily, the five-pointer was the first try in Newcastle in three Tests played at the venue.

Mo'unga converted from the sideline.

The classy No.10 soon almost had his second try assist as he dummied and split the Pumas' defence before a long cut out pass to find Caleb Clarke out wide and in the open. But the bullocking winger, who drew comparisons to Jonah Lomu a month earlier, was knocked into touch in the process of scoring.

Mo'unga's penalty in the 16th minute gave the All Blacks a 10-point lead.

That's how the scoreline stayed at half-time, as Mo'unga missed another penalty chance.

The All Blacks bombed another couple of chances early in the second half, as the Pumas somehow held on.

But eventually the pressure told as Savea jumped into halfback from a lineout close to the opposition line and barged his way over two defenders to score.

More chances came and went, but Jordan made sure that the All Blacks would leave Newcastle with the crucial bonus point as he scored in the 68th minute after pouncing onto another loose pass from the Pumas from a set-piece play gone wrong.

Two minutes later and the star young back had his second as he sensationally plucked out another intercept and raced away to score.

It was the sort of play that New Zealanders had become accustomed to seeing at Super Rugby, but the youngster's brace announced him on the world stage.

Giant lock Tuipulotu putting the icing on the cake with a try deep into stoppage time.

The loss was a massive fall from grace for the Pumas, who had won the hearts of rugby fans around the world with their courageous efforts over the past month since arriving in Australia for the tournament.

But the Pumas' third Test in as many weeks proved to be too great a task.

Despite the heavy loss, Pumas captain Pablo Matera refused to blame the mass chances - 10 in total - to their starting side as a reason for the loss.

"We were not clinical, there were too many handling errors when we got the ball, some mistakes in defence as well, so not a good thing for us," Matera said.

"I don't think that was the problem," he added, when asked about the team's wholesale changes.

"It was a whole team thing. There were many, many mistakes."

The Pumas will play the Wallabies at Bankwest Stadium on December 5 to round out the Tri Nations.

AT A GLANCE

All Blacks 38 (Coles, Savea, Jordan 2, Tuipulotu tries; Mo'unga con 5; Mo'unga pen 1) defeated Pumas 0