The boot of Piri Weepu ensured New Zealand reached the Rugby World Cup semi-finals with seven penalties in a 33-10 victory over Argentina.
Argentina’s sound defence restricted New Zealand to just two tries, both in the final quarter of the game, while the Pumas crossed the line once to briefly, and against all predicitions, lead in the first half.
The last of the four quarter-finals was the only one to produce the winner forecast by the bookmakers as Weepu finished with a match haul of 21 points.
The win pits New Zealand against Australia in one semi-final after their trans-Tasman rivals knocked defending champions South Africa out of the tournament with an 11-9 win in their quarter-final earlier Sunday.
The second semi-final between France and Wales was decided Saturday after their victories over England and Ireland respectively.
“I think it’s what we expected,” said New Zealand captain Richie McCaw.
“We knew if we kept chipping away, we would get the chances. They (Argentina) are a team that attack the breakdown well and they slowed up our ball a wee bit in the first half,” the flanker added.
“That was one of the big improvements we got going in the second half, we got some quick ball and played at the right end.”
Argentina skipper and playmaker Felipe Contepomi, whose team finished third at the 2007 World Cup, said they’d been undone by the “magic” of New Zealand.
“I think it was competitive for 60 minutes, then I think the All Blacks showed their magic and they won well,” said Contepomi. “That’s rugby, you know.”
New Zealand were in control from the opening exchanges against Argentina, and while they were unable to score a try until the 67th minute, they were able to quickly master the reputed strength of the Argentina pack.
But while the All Blacks backs retained the ball for long periods, mixing cut-out passes and wrap around movements to shift Argentina’s heavy pack around Eden Park, they could not penetrate the South Americans’ staunch defence.
It was left to Weepu to accumulate the points starting with a 38-metre penalty in the 13th minute and doubling the score soon after when Argentina conceded a scrum penalty as their main weapon began to misfire early.
But even though they were forced on the back foot for most of the game, the Pumas scored the only try of the opening 40 minutes.
Leonardo Senatore came off the back of a scrum, beat the tackle of McCaw and took play deep into All Blacks territory before off-loading for a try to flanker Julio Farias Cabello, converted from the sideline by Contepomi to leave the Pumas up 7-6 up.
Weepu regained the lead with two more penalties to have New Zealand 12-7 ahead at half-time.
Argentina’s long-range marksman Marcelo Bosch narrowed the gap to 12-10 with a successful penalty from halfway, soon after the restart.
But another two Weepu penalties made it 18-10 before No 8 Kieran Read finally pierced the Pumas’ defence for New Zealand’s first try following a series of forward rushes.
The All Blacks closed out the game with another Weepu penalty and a rare try to from lock Brad Thorn, who galloped 25 metres to score after replacement fly-half Aaron Cruden and wing Cory Jane had opened up Argentina down the right flank.
Cruden, who converted the try, had a sound game after coming on early when Carter’s understudy, Colin Slade, left the field with a leg injury.