Rugby: New Zealand retain Rugby Championship

Rugby: New Zealand retain Rugby Championship
South Africa's Springboks Tendai Mtawarira (right) tackles New Zealand's All Blacks Ben Smith during their Rugby Championship match at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

LA PLATA, Argentina - New Zealand defeated Argentina 34-13 in La Plata Saturday to clinch a third consecutive Rugby Championship title.

Ben Smith, Israel Dagg, Julian Savea and TJ Perenara scored the tries that gave the All Blacks a bonus point and an unassailable six-point advantage over South Africa.

A late try flurry earned the Springboks a 28-10 victory over Australia in Cape Town earlier Saturday.

New Zealand have 21 points with one round remaining, South Africa 15, Australia 10 and Argentina three in the southern hemisphere championship.

Victory stretched the unbeaten run of the world champions to 22 Tests ahead of a showdown with arch rivals South Africa in Johannesburg next Saturday.

It was a special match for New Zealand skipper and flanker Richie McCaw as he equalled the record of 133 All Blacks appearances set by legendary former lock Colin Meads.

McCaw has played in 132 Tests and a match against the Barbarians while Meads won 55 Test caps and featured in 78 other matches before his 1971 retirement.

A 50,000 crowd at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata watched the match kick off in perfect conditions and All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett potted two penalties within 10 minutes.

Usually the third-choice playmaker, Barrett started because Dan Carter is recovering from injury and drunk Aaron Cruden missed the flight from New Zealand and was given a two-Test ban.

Right-wing Ben Smith scored the first New Zealand try on 12 minutes as he took an inside pass from full-back Dagg to dive over and Barrett converted.

Argentina were 13 points adrift with as many minutes gone and South African referee Craig Joubert repeatedly penalising the blue-and-white outfit for forward infringements.

When Dagg committed a late tackle during a rare Argentine sortie, fly-half Nicolas Sanchez slotted the penalty and the Pumas were finally on the scoreboard.

Sanchez had another penalty opportunity when All Blacks No. 8 Kieran Read was guilty of a high tackle, but his kick rebounded off the post and no Puma chased after the loose ball.

Another New Zealand try arrived on 25 minutes with the ball speeding along the line to Ben Smith, who sent Dagg over and Barrett converted again.

Argentina squandered their best chance of a first-half try when centre Juan Martin Hernandez surrendered possession cheaply with the line in sight and the All Blacks cleared.

Sanchez cut the deficit with his second successful penalty and New Zealand trooped off at half-time with a 20-6 advantage.

New Zealand thought they had a third try on 55 minutes, but video replays showed Savea in front of Barrett when the fly-half chipped into space for the giant left-wing to go over.

The let-off for the Pumas was temporary, however, as a skip pass gave Savea the chance to demonstrate his power and he burst past several would-be tacklers for a try Barrett converted.

Argentina lacked the composure of New Zealand when they came close to the try-line with replacement scrum-half Martin Landajo knocking on in a promising position.

New Zealand needed a fourth try for the bonus point and it came on 68 minutes as replacement scrum-half Perenara took a Malakai Fekitoa pass and dived over.

Barrett maintained his perfect goal-kicking record on the night with a fourth successful conversion.

The home crowd finally had cause to cheer in the final minute as a good move ended with substitute wing Horacio Agulla going over for a converted try.

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