BEN Smith scored his second try moments from time to earn New Zealand a vital bonus point as they put one hand firmly on the Rugby Championship trophy with a 33-15 victory over Argentina in La Plata.
The All Blacks, who began the match level on points with South Africa after the Springboks’ win over Australia, failed to assert themselves in the first half but led by two at the break thanks to Julian Savea’s score.
But the game was ended as a contest by two tries in five minutes early in the second half by Sam Cane and Smith, who then touched down moments from the end to secure the bonus point. That put the All Blacks five points clear of South Africa, meaning they just have to avoid a bonus-point defeat in Johannesburg next week to claim the trophy in successive years.
Two penalties by Nicolas Sanchez, either side of an Aaron Cruden kick, deservedly put Argentina 6-3 up.
But Savea picked up a loose ball in midfield and sprinted to cross for the game’s first try.
Cruden added a second penalty to put New Zealand 11-6 up before Sanchez kicked a third for the Pumas to make it 11-9 at the break.
Marcello Bosch slotted over from halfway as Argentina edged ahead at the start of the second period, but the All Blacks responded quickly and decisively when Cane touched down for their second try in the 51st minute.
Then Ma’a Nonu dummied superbly then put Smith clear. Cruden converted, New Zealand were suddenly 26-12 and all but out of sight. Sanchez kicked a penalty, but, with only seconds remaining, Smith forced his way through for the bonus point.
At Newlands in Cape Town, the Springboks had the game virtually wrapped up in the first 20 minutes, when they stormed to a 20-3 lead over Australia on their way to a 28-8 win.
Adriaan Strauss and Zane Kirchner scored tries in that early onslaught, but then South Africa had to wait until the 71st minute for their third try when Willie le Roux crossed.
The Australians, who have only won one match in the tournament, will now travel to Argentina for a wooden spoon decider next week. But they did score a consolation try late on through debutant Chris Feauai-Sautia. Christian Leali’ifano also kicked a penalty for the Wallabies, while Morne Steyn slotted two conversions and three penalties for the Boks.