BUENOS AIRES • New Zealand were superb in the first half and sloppy in the second as they overcame Argentina 36-10 in Buenos Aires on Saturday in the Rugby Championship.
Assured of retaining the title before the kick-off after South Africa and Australia drew 27-27 earlier in the day in Bloemfontein, the All Blacks were awesome at times as they built a 29-3 lead in 28 minutes.
But the champions became ragged after half-time and the much-improved Argentina kept them scoreless until new cap David Havili scored a last-gasp try.
The score by the substitute wrapped up a bonus-point victory that lifted New Zealand to 24 points with one round remaining in the Southern Hemisphere championship.
South Africa, who host New Zealand in Cape Town on Saturday after being humiliated 57-0 in New Zealand this month, have 13 points, Australia 10 and Argentina none.
Apart from Havili, skipper Kieran Read (two), Damian McKenzie and Waisake Naholo were the New Zealand try scorers. Playmaker Beauden Barrett, who conjured up some first-half magic, kicked four conversions and a penalty to top the competition scoring charts this season with 67 points.
Veteran Juan Manuel Leguizamon celebrated his 80th cap for Argentina with a try and Nicolas Sanchez slotted a conversion and a penalty.
It was the fifth title for New Zealand since Argentina joined the competition in 2012 and the Tri-Nations Championship became the Rugby Championship.
"I am proud of the boys who defended brilliantly at times," Read said.
He said leaving some stars at home and giving starts to fringe players worked for a team who will be chasing a third consecutive world title in Japan in 2019.
"It was good for the less experienced boys in the team to sample playing in one of the toughest atmospheres in world rugby," said Read. "David (Havili) produced some special touches and his try rounded off a special day for him."
The captain said the team's "scrumming was really good", adding: "Overall, it was a performance to be proud of and we now look forward to facing the Springboks in Cape Town."
Minutes, almost the entire second half, that New Zealand failed to score until David Havili crossed the line for their fifth try.
South Africa coach Allister Coetzee said his side have been given little chance of exacting revenge on New Zealand in their Rugby Championship finale and added that anyone expecting a rousing home win is "living in a fool's paradise".
He did, however, vow that the Springboks would be better prepared for the clash against the world champions at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday after their 57-0 drubbing in Auckland last month.
"We are still hurting obviously from the previous result against them, but we will prepare as well as we can and we will be ready for them at Newlands," Coetzee said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS