New Zealand were eventually convincing winners against Argentina in Napier, picking up a try bonus point in a 28-9 victory.
Julian Savea scored twice, taking his absurd record in Test rugby to 26 tries in 25 games.
At times this was closer to a chip and grubber exhibition than a Test match as both sides, forwards and backs, had their turn to try and put the opposition into a tangle.
Eventually though New Zealand broke free, as ever. The fact that Beauden Barrett is a third-choice fly-half is bordering on a practical joke.
It was a psychological battle initially as much as a physical one. When Sam Whitelock is forced to depart, that’s all you need to know.
Napier didn’t quite supply the biblical conditions that made Round One of this year’s tournament such a dire spectacle, but it wasn’t far off initially. Good on the fans for toughing it out in what looked like miserable pre-match weather.
Whatever the skies supplied, the odds of Argentina achieving a first ever win over New Zealand after 22 failures felt minutely slim pre-kick-off.
It was not a night for the officials, missing a blatant pull-back on Savea in the opening minutes and then denying Leonardo Senatore a try for a nonsense knock-on.
Adjusting to the All Blacks’ tempo is never easy and although Argentina’s tactics were spot on, the visitors were turned inside out by Barrett’s chip over the top with Horacio Agulla putting in a blatant early tackle on Savea but escaping any punishment.
Barrett couldn’t find his range with his first strike for goal, nor could Sánchez’s with his drop-goal attempt, but Argentina were their now customary bright selves when working in New Zealand’s 22.
Pascal Gauzère’s scrum interpretation was met with frustration from Marcos Ayerza but it paved the way for Barrett to score the first points after 15 minutes, landing a penalty from out wide.
Argentina’s maul was as effective as ever, producing a first penalty chance for Sánchez to level things up.
Errors count for double when the heavens are open and boy there were enough here, from Wyatt Crockett’s charge-down on Juan Martín Hernández to Israel Dagg hoofing the ball out on the full after great recovery work in his 22.
Appropriately it was a subtle kick that created the opening try, Conrad Smith the architect as Savea patiently waited to dot down his deflected grubber. Retallick’s ball skills in the build-up defied belief.
Sánchez struck a second penalty to maintain the tension, New Zealand taking an 8-6 lead into the break – at least that what the script said.
The unthinkable occurred. Winning the scrum against the head, Barrett broke free up the middle and had Messam on his inside to add the second score. Juan Manuel Leguizamón’s shocked expression said it all.
We say it time and time again. Against the All Blacks, never switch off.
The assault continued with Savea’s second try, latching onto Barrett’s perfectly weighted pass, Hurricanes intuition too smart for Argentina’s midfield defence.
Not that New Zealand are perfect. Dagg blew a wide open chance to give Ben Smith a try when his pass looped out of control into touch with the line beckoning, but the result already felt settled.
Scandalously a poor decision from the officials robbed Senatore of a try when his charge-down was interpreted as a knock-on.
Sánchez and Colin Slade traded penalties before Aaron Smith added the gloss late on with his tenth Test try, Argentina’s scrum five metres out from their own line well-contained and too slow to react to Read’s quick thinking.
More importantly it notched up a try bonus-point, invaluable before the All Blacks take on the Springboks.
Argentina in the end were well adrift but should take pride from their efforts as ever. The conclusion was far from revelatory – New Zealand were just too good.
Man of the Match: The man-mountain Brodie Retallick. Outstanding yet again.
Moment of the Match: Has to be Liam Messam’s try. All Argentina’s good work keeping the game tight instantly unravelled after the hooter.
Villain of the Match: Really not a good night for the officials was it? Senatore’s disallowed try was a shambles. Use the TMO.
For New Zealand:
Tries: Savea 2, Messam, Smith
Pens: Barrett, Slade
Pen: Sánchez 3
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Malakai Fekitoa.
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Lucas González Amorosino, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Matías Cortese, 17 Luca Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Juan Imhoff.
Referee: Pascal Gauzère (France)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
TMO: Peter Marshall (Australia)
* Ben Coles, Planet Rugby