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New Zealand beats Argentina to claim Rugby Championship title

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Associated Press
9/30/2012 2:00:20 AM
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LA PLATA, Argentina -- A Cory Jane hat-trick led New Zealand to a dominant 54-15 victory over Argentina on Saturday to secure the Rugby Championship title for the world champions.

Julian Savea added two tries -- bringing his tally to five tries in five tests -- as the All Blacks overpowered Argentina, which has yet to win in five matches in the new four-nation championship.

The victory gave the defending World Cup champions an unassailable nine-point lead atop the standings with one round of matches to go in the tournament, allowing them to add the first Rugby Championship trophy to the Bledisloe Cup and Webb Ellis Cup.

It was the 15th-straight victory for the All Blacks, who have also won 15 of 16 matches against Argentina. The other match was a draw. It was also their most lopsided victory against Argentina in Argentina, larger than a 36-6 victory in 1991.

New Zealand fell behind 5-0 on an 8th-minute try by Martin Landajo, who split open the All Blacks defence on a long, angled run toward the right corner, delighting the 45,000 sellout crowd in the coastal city of La Plata.

It didn't last, as the world champion All Blacks showed their class in tearing apart Argentina's defence at will.

"It's a hell of a place to play here and we probably gave them a bit of a start there -- conceding the first try -- but we showed composure," captain Richie McCaw said. "It's easy to get caught up in (the atmosphere) and go a bit quiet. But the boys stuck to it and every opportunity pretty much we got tonight we took."

New Zealand grabbed the lead -- for good -- in the 16th on Aaron Smith's try and Dan Carter's conversion. It was never close after that.

Carter extended New Zealand's lead with a penalty before Jane gave New Zealand a decisive 17-5 lead with his first try in the 24th minute. Flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez clawed back three points with a penalty which carried him past 100 points in tests before Carter goaled again.

Savea then broke the Pumas' hearts with a length of the field try against the run of play. Argentina was threatening New Zealand's line when backrower Keiran Read made a tackle that dislodged the ball from a Pumas attacker. Savea kicked threw and showed exceptional soccer skills to control the ball for 80 metres. His second try seven minutes later gave New Zealand an unassailable 32-8 lead at halftime.

"We were excited (about scoring the first try) but we met a really good team today and I think today we made more mistakes than usual, and every time we did a mistake they made it seven points," Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said. "So it was very tough, but there are lessons to be learned."

Argentina closes out the championship next week against Australia in Rosario, Argentina. New Zealand finishes with South Africa.

"We set out to win the championship from day one, and to be able to do it so early is a reflection on how well the boys have worked and how well they've played," New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said.

"We train all week to do things with purpose and accuracy in our execution and by and large tonight we achieved that."

He said he was not surprised Argentina scored first.

"I think that's what you're going to get sometimes in an atmosphere like this," he said. "We were a bit jittery, particularly in the first five or 10 minutes.

"I think Argentine fans would be disappointed that they weren't closer on the scoreboard but they should be thoroughly proud of their team becausee they never gave up at any stage and were playing just as hard at the end as they were at the beginning."

It was a disappointing match for the Pumas, who have otherwise been impressive in their first appearance in the premier southern hemisphere tournament.

"There is still a big difference between us and them," Argentina coach Santiago Phelan said. "They play with intensity and precision, something we lack."

As soon as New Zealand took the lead, it began to build on it with slick ball handling and better speed than the Pumas.

Argentina's Gonzalo Camacho opened the second half with a try to cut the lead to 32-15, before Jane responded in the 51st to push New Zealand ahead 37-15. Ma'a Nonu added another try in the 60th with the lead growing to 44-15 and Aaron Cruden added a penalty in the 66th to make it 47-15.

Jane added his third try in the final minute with Cruden adding the conversion to complete the rout.

"It's probably one of our best performances of the season," McCaw said. "When we started out four or six weeks ago the goal was to put last year behind us.

"We've got the tag of world champions and we needed to play like that. To secure the Rugby Championship was obviously the big goal and it's nice to be able to do that."

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New Zealand 54 (Cory Jane 3, Julian Savea 2, Aaron Smith, Ma'a Nonu tries; Dan Carter 3 conversions, 2 penalties; Aaron Cruden 2 conversions, penalty) defeated Argentina 15 (Martin Landajo, Gonzalo Camacho tries; Juan Martin Hernandez conversion, penalty). HT 32-8.

New Zealand All-Blacks (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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