SKIPPER Richie McCaw hailed the All Blacks’ return to their awesome and ruthless best against Argentina as even more pleasing than their inaugural Rugby Championship triumph on Saturday night.
New Zealand underlined their world champion status by wrapping up the rebranded and expanded Southern Hemisphere tournament with a 54-15 thumping of the Pumas in La Plata.
It was the first time in nine years the All Blacks have notched a half-century in the competition and McCaw had no hesitation in rating the seven-try rout as their best performance of the 2012 edition.
Despite a feverish opening quarter hour by the home side, the visitors showed all their muscle, guile and class to rack up seven tries to two.
McCaw had called for his team to win in style after failing to show enough precision in their previous four wins which netted only seven tries.
But the shackles were broken at a jam-packed Stadia Ciudad de La Plata where Cory Jane bagged a hat-trick and fellow winger Julian Savea crossed for a double.
“The goal is to put last year behind us but we’ve got the tag of world champions and we want to play like that,” McCaw said. “To secure the Rugby Championship this year was a big goal and it’s nice to be able to do that but I think a better performance is what the guys are pretty happy with.
“Rather than scoreboard-wise, it was the manner in which we did it was (most) satisfying.”
Coach Steve Hansen, who paid credit to the well beaten but unbowed Pumas’ positive play, agreed: “We trained all week to do things with purpose, accuracy and execution and by a large we succeeded in doing that”.
New Zealand officially claimed the four-nation tournament by halftime with a four-try first half.
The attacking bonus point meant they couldn’t be overhauled by second-placed South Africa, who trounced Australia 31-8 six hours earlier in Pretoria, even with next week’s last round clash to come in Johannesburg.
The All Blacks went on with the job after the break Jane scoring twice and another backline stand-out, Ma’a Nonu, also crossing to put the icing on the cake of a 15th straight Test victory.
It was a far cry from the first 15 minutes when the locals were cock-a-hoop at leading 5-0 and winning the early collisions.
Halfback Martin Landajo opened the scoring by finishing a well-worked first-phase backline move off that saw fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino burst through on halfway.
But Argentina’s defence fell to pieces once Nonu scooped from a vacant ruck area and expertly put halfback Aaron Smith over in the 17th minute.
It started a four-try blitz as No.8 Kieran Read strolled through to set up Jane in the corner, Savea toed ahead a spilt ball out wide to score, and then followed up for a second five-pointer just before halftime.
In his comeback from a calf injury, playmaker Dan Carter showed his class but was rested midway through the second half, allowing Aaron Cruden to continue the carnage.