AARON Smith ignited a late revival as the All Blacks overhauled Argentina to start their World Cup defence with a 26-16 victory before a record crowd at Wembley Stadium last night.
The Pumas threatened an upset when they led 13-12 at half time and jumped to a 16-12 advantage early in the second spell.
The All Blacks’ superior possession advantage was crushed in a vice-like defence.
But the gallant Pumas were worn down by the black machine in a fractious clash which saw three players yellow-carded, including All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw for the third time in his 143-test career.
McCaw admitted that his side had to dig deep to get back into the game.
The All Blacks played nearly 20 minutes with a man down and with a two-man deficit for a few minutes when Conrad Smith was sent off before McCaw returned.
But any hopes Argentina had of emulating Japan’s stunning victory over South Africa evaporated in the 56th minute when scrumhalf Aaron Smith darted around the side of a ruck for the All Blacks’ opening try.
It revived the world champions, who followed with a try to Sam Cane. Dan Carter converted both tries and landed four penalties.
Argentina’s first-half lead was built on a try by 20-year-old lock Guido Petti, converted by Nicolas Sanchez, who also kicked two penalties.
In the second spell Argentina were restricted to one further Sanchez penalty.
Before a capacity 89 019 at Wembley, a record World Cup crowd, New Zealand were expected to win and wanted to make an emphatic statement.
But they could not have been happy with their inability to break down the Argentina defence despite dominating possession and territory.
Julian Savea, who went into the match with eight tries from six previous tests against Argentina, was starved of the ball for most of the match.
The All Blacks’ opening points all came from Carter penalties as Argentina, struggling for territory, were forced into a series of infringements.
The second of Carter’s four first-half penalties came when Argentina flanker Pablo Matera was yellow-carded.
After Carter landed a third penalty to put the All Blacks ahead 9-0, the 14-man Argentina produced the opening try with Petti crashing over from close range.
They took the lead when McCaw was sent off and flyhalf Sanchez, who had converted Petti’s try, kicked a 50-metre penalty to put the Pumas ahead 10-9, which later grew to 16-12.
The All Blacks regained the lead in the 56th minute with Smith’s try. Cane followed him over the line and Carter kicked both conversions.