Billy Stickland/INPHO
Winning Ugly
New Zealand come from behind to avoid opening day shock against Argentina
The All Blacks looked rusty en route to an opening win.

New Zealand 26

Argentina 16

CHAMPIONS NEW ZEALAND survived a real scare to get their World Cup defence off to a winning start, needing to hit back after a disastrous first-half to eke out a win.

The All Blacks shipped 13 unanswered points and played with 13 men for part of the first half, before Aaron Smith and Sam Cane tries in the second 40 saved their blushes against an Argentina side for whom Juan Martin Hernandez was outstanding.

The All Blacks had a whopping 1,013 caps on the pitch at Wembley, and it was one of their most experienced heads that got them off the mark, Dan Carter slotting over a routine penalty for his 1,519th point in the Rugby World Cup.

Argentina then found themselves down to 14 men, as Pablo Matera was sin-binned after he cynically stopped Aaron Smith from taking a quick penalty, Carter knocking it over to stretch the lead to six.

More indiscipline in the 22 haunted Argentina on 18 minutes, as Tomas Lavanini infringed to allow Carter make it 9-0.

However, once Argentina got some phases together, they found a breakthrough. Guido Petti eventually barreled over, taking a knock to the head from a stray Dan Carter leg in the process.

Guido Petti Billy Stickland / INPHO Petti crosses for the try. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Nicolas Sanchez made no mistake with the conversion, and he put them 10-9 ahead on 30 minutes. Wayne Barnes had initially judged that Argentina had knocked on, but after checking with the TMO, it became clear Richie McCaw had tripped Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. McCaw took a 10 minute trip to the bin, and the champions looked rattled.

Incredibly, they were soon down to 13 men, as Conrad Smith picked up a yellow card for cynically coming into a ruck from the side and off his feet just short of the line. Once more, it was Nicolas Sanchez who kicked the points, and after looking so comfortable early on, New Zealand were behind by four.

However, they picked up a crucial penalty just before the end of the half, Dan Carter making no mistake to leave the half-time score 13-12 to the Pumas.

Sanchez regained the four point lead with his third penalty of the day early in the second half, as New Zealand rejigged their side; Wyatt Crockett and Sonny Bill Williams on for Tony Woodcock and Ma’a Nonu.

Williams made an instant impression, offloading to Nehe Milner Skudder close to the line, but somehow the winger couldn’t hold onto the ball to score.

New Zealand began to dominate possession and territory, and after Argentina were given their final warning by Wayne Barnes, Aaron Smith crept inside the cover to touch down, Carter’s conversion putting New Zealand ahead by three.

Kieran Read passes the ball Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

They managed to find some breathing space with 15 minutes to go, as substitute Sam Cane finished off a perfectly executed overlap, with Carter kicking over for the sixth time to make it a 10 point game.

That knocked the stuffing out of Argentina, and the efforts of the previous 60 minutes looked to have taken their toll.

As the game wore on, it was New Zealand that looked more likely to score again, but the Pumas’ defence held out. The final whistle brought an end to an enthralling game, and one which makes any potential quarter-final line-up for Ireland extremely interesting.

The holders look vulnerable, and there’s real substance to this Argentina side.

World Rugby / YouTube

New Zealand scorers:Tries: Aaron Smith, Sam Cane (1)Conversions: Dan Carter (2)Penalties: Carter (4)Argentina scorers:Tries: Guido Petti (1)Conversions: Nicolas Sanchez (1)

Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (3)

New Zealand: Ben Smith; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Jerome Kaino; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Tony Woodcock

Replacements: Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett, Charlie Faumuina, Victor Vito, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams

Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet; Santiago Cordero, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Juan Imhoff; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Leonardo Senatore, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Pablo Matera; Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti; Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy (capt), Marcos Ayerza

Replacements: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Ramino Herrera, Mariano Galarza, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Martin Landajo, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

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