Argentina beat the All Blacks for the first time in New Zealand with a stunning 25-18 Rugby Championship win in Christchurch on Saturday, piling further pressure on coach Ian Foster.
Playing with passion and physicality, the Pumas won the battle of the breakdown and benefited with 20 points from the boot of Emiliano Boffelli to lodge just their second win over the All Blacks.
The home side, who squandered an early 15-6 lead, have now lost six of their last eight Tests and can expect more severe criticism after the pressure had eased following their last-start 35-23 defeat of the Springboks in Johannesburg.
They have lost three successive Tests at home for the first time following successive defeats against Ireland last month and it could be four on the trot if they succumb again to the Pumas in Hamilton next week.
Victory for Argentina followed their record-breaking 48-17 win over Australia in San Juan and extends their lead at the top of the Rugby Championship standings.
Led by non-stop flankers Pablo Matera and Marcos Kremer, the latter playing his 50th Test, the Pumas tackled themselves to a standstill, including over the dramatic final minutes when they repeatedly denied the desperate hosts.
It was a courageous performance eerily reminiscent of two years ago, when they stunned New Zealand for the first time 25-15 in Sydney.
On that occasion fly-half Nicolas Sanchez kicked six penalties and a conversion, a feat matched by the winger Boffelli, who landed all seven of his shots at goal.
Matera, who was based in Christchurch this season with the Canterbury Crusaders, was emotional after the final whistle.
“It’s just too good, it’s a dream come true to come back with my country and beat the All Blacks for the first time, it’s even more special (than the Sydney win),” he said.
Captain Julian Montoya hoped big Test wins are becoming a norm for Argentina.
“We’re starting to believe in what we can do that it is not just a magic moment, like the first time (Sydney),” he said.
“We just need to keep on working. Now we must enjoy this but we have another game in seven days. So yeah, I’m very, very proud. Very, very happy.
“This is for all the people back home who woke up at 4:30 am to watch this. I’m very proud, this is a really special moment for us.”
New Zealand Rugby can expect to come under the blowtorch from its critics after its decision last week to reappoint Foster, despite the head coach’s dreadful record by All Blacks standards.
A strong finish at Ellis Park was enough to convince the New Zealand Rugby board to confirm Foster’s position through to next year’s World Cup, a decision they insisted wouldn’t be reviewed again.
However, many of the same problems that haunted New Zealand in last month’s series loss to Ireland and in the subsequent heavy defeat to the Springboks in Mbombela returned.
They were disjointed on attack and lacked the necessary physicality in contact against opponents whose confidence grew as the match proceeded.
Conceding 14 penalties allowed Boffelli to keep the scoreboard ticking over and created a stop-start game, which played into the hands of the visitors.
New Zealand captain Sam Cane said his side didn’t respond well to pressure.
“A lot of credit to go to the Argentinian side for the way they stuck in it and eventually turned the tables,” he said.
“They ended up putting us under a lot of pressure that second half and we didn’t respond the way we wanted. We made a few simple errors that we don’t really like to make.”
Argentina never looked like scoring a try in the first half but Boffelli kept them in touch, including two late penalties to narrow their deficit to 15-12.
Samisoni Taukei’aho’s try came through a lineout drive while Caleb Clarke’s try was more spectacular, emanating from an overthrown Pumas lineout on the halfway line before the ball was moved swiftly through the hands in a rare fluent attack.
A Richie Mo’unga penalty opened the second half for New Zealand but Argentina hit the front 19-18 through an opportunist try to flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez, who stormed 30 metres after New Zealand failed to secure a kickoff.
The final half hour was dominated by Argentina’s stout defence.
They continually stymied New Zealand’s attack and played cleverly in possession, creating two further penalties landed by Boffelli.