NZ claw past Pumas, set up semifinal vs Wallabies
Updated: October 09, 2011, 07:19
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AUCKLAND, New Zealand(AP) New Zealand won the torrid forwards showdown against Argentina to tough out a 33-10 victory on Sunday that set up a semifinal with archrival Australia in the Rugby World Cup.
The Pumas went gunning for the All Blacks up front, and New Zealand struggled mightily to break their clutches on Eden Park. Argentina even scored a try against the run of play to briefly lead 7-6 in the first half, but under constant siege, the Pumas grudgingly conceded penalties.
Scrumhalf Piri Weepu did a perfect impersonation of sidelined superstar Dan Carter by booting over his first six shots at goal to build a safe 18-10 lead by the hour mark, after which the Pumas exhausted their terrific energy and New Zealand finally ran in tries to forwards Kieran Read and Brad Thorn.
"They come at you like a black wave and it's very hard to stop them,'' Pumas captain Felipe Contepomi said.
The All Blacks will meet the Wallabies on the same ground in a week. It will be the third All Blacks-Wallabies semifinal in tournament history, with the Wallabies triumphant both times in 1991 and 2003.
Maintaining an unbeaten record against the Pumas may have been costly for New Zealand. Fullback Mils Muliaina, who became the second All Black to 100 tests, lasted only 41 minutes before he was replaced with a serious shoulder injury, and Colin Slade came off early, by cruel coincidence, with a groin injury. Carter's tournament ended with a torn tendon in his groin in training, elevating Slade to the starting flyhalf.
In for Slade went the in-form Aaron Cruden, the squad replacement for Carter, and after his first All Blacks appearance in a year he was praised by coach Graham Henry for his composure.
"I've twice played Argentina and never had an easy game,'' captain Richie McCaw said. "They're passionate, and when it comes to a World Cup quarterfinal, they showed how much it means to them, and we expected that.
"They play well as a team, try to interrupt your flow and put you under pressure. We knew it might take a bit of time to get on top. The thing we didn't want to do was panic. We've learned from the past that you've got to play 80 minutes in these big tests, there's always going to be opportunities and you've got to take them.''
Argentina pulled off its plan to slow down New Zealand's ruck ball, hold its defense together and make first-time tackles count. But its willingness to bend the rules in the breakdowns drove referee Nigel Owens to frustration, and he penalized the Pumas 10 times, seven of them within range for Weepu.
Feisty scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo was also sin-binned in the second half after repeated warnings, and that was when the All Blacks put the result beyond doubt, scoring 11 points to jump from 15-10 to 26-10.
Vergallo was one of the Pumas' best, alongside try-scoring flanker Juan Cabello and veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero, who put in 12 tackles before he was replaced seconds before halftime. New Zealand ran off at halftime to muted applause, much less than it has been used to in this World Cup.
But the All Blacks returned with a greater sense of urgency, moving ruck ball faster and slowly making more sniping raids through Argentina's tiring defense.
A penalty from the halfway line by the Pumas' Marcelo Bosch closed the deficit to 12-10, but Weepu's fifth penalty extended the lead to 15-10.
Chances opened up. A Weepu crosskick was taken by Cruden, who fell into the right corner flag, then McCaw was held up in front of the right post in the same struggle which sent Vergallo to the sin-bin, and Weepu made it 18-10.
Then New Zealand's tries finally arrived. Jerome Kaino's no-look outside pass was missed by Pumas fullback Martin Rodriguez and Read scored.
Weepu finally missed a shot, the conversion, but nailed his seventh penalty from 41 meters for 26-10.
Then winger Cory Jane, who starred throughout the game after being sanctioned for a night of binge drinking on Thursday, drew three defenders, Read picked up the over-the-shoulder pass, and Thorn strolled in. Cruden converted.
The festival finish was in stark contrast to the grinding first half.
When New Zealand received its first penalty within kicking distance in the 12th, Weepu received a cheer from the crowd when he stepped forward. He made four from four at the end of the pool win over Canada, and kept on swinging hits.
Read had a try disallowed when Vergallo's tackle slid his legs into touch, then Vergallo saved another try soon after Weepu's crosskick was caught by Jane on the right wing, and he chipped ahead for Muliaina, but Vergallo swept up the bouncing ball in front of his line.
The All Blacks' stronger scrum earned another three points before the Pumas struck out of nowhere. No. 8 Leonardo Senatore broke from the back of a scrum inside his own half, Contepomi juggled his pass and fullback Martin Rodriguez was cut down by Kaino near the right corner. But Cabello picked up the ruck ball and dived in.
The Pumas were proud of their effort and left impressed, again, by New Zealand.
"They play a very, very simple game,'' Contepomi said, "but what they do they do it very well.''