NEWCASTLE (Australia) • Under-pressure All Blacks coach Ian Foster was a relieved man after his side clicked into gear in their final Tri-Nations match yesterday to rout Argentina 38-0 and all but secure the title.
The three-time world champions opened their campaign with a record 43-5 win over Australia, but Foster had come under immense scrutiny after his side’s 24-22 loss to the Wallabies in the return match, followed by a first Test defeat by the Pumas.
Before the victory yesterday, the All Blacks were facing the prospect of losing three in a row for the first time in more than 20 years.
“The loss two weeks ago still hurts but tonight will go a long way to fix that,” Foster said, wiping his sweaty brow on a hot night at the McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle, north of Sydney.
“It was still a tough Test and it took a long time to break them down. I just loved the patience.
“We made them make a lot of tackles and, in these conditions, they paid a price. It certainly opened up in that last quarter, which is what we expected.”
The win all but secured the silverware for New Zealand, who have 11 points from four games.
Argentina play Australia next week and either side could feasibly edge them out, but it would take a bonus-point win and by a huge margin given New Zealand’s vastly superior points differential.
Foster had made only three changes to the starting side who lost 25-15 to Argentina, and he was rewarded with a far more mature and disciplined performance.
“We just didn’t lose belief in what we were doing,” he added.
“It’s been a big few weeks but the guys are still determined to play, and I think we got the formula right today.”
A FORCE FOR UNITY
I think he’s a legend for everybody, but in Argentina he was almost a god. He had the capacity of getting everybody together so we will miss him
The All Blacks dominated the first half, going into the break 10-0 ahead, but there were also missed opportunities with two tries disallowed.
But two tries in quick succession from young full-back Will Jordan in the final quarter sealed the victory and a crucial bonus point for winning by three tries or more.
The defeat for Argentina proved extra painful for Mario Ledesma’s men, who were hoping to lift the spirits of their nation after football legend Diego Maradona’s death aged 60 on Wednesday.
New Zealand skipper Sam Cane laid an All Blacks jersey emblazoned with Maradona’s name and shirt number, 10, in the centre circle ahead of the kick-off as a mark of respect.
Ledesma felt his team had their chances to maintain their fairy-tale run after backing up their win over the All Blacks with a 15-15 draw against Australia last week.
Having played all but faultless rugby two weeks ago, however, the Pumas turned over the ball almost every time they had a chance to put pressure on their opponents yesterday.
“A lot of mistakes, a lot of drop balls,” Ledesma said. “It’s difficult to be objective but I don’t think the score reflects the game.
“We have a big one next week and we’re really conscious of that and really committed to having a great game.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE