New Zealand coach Steve Hansen admitted his team was fortunate to escape with the four-point win over Argentina.
The depleted All Blacks outfit survived a second-half onslaught from Los Pumas to win a Rugby Championship first-round match 20-16 in Buenos Aires at the weekend.
With eight of their victorious Crusaders players left behind in New Zealand to prepare for the crucial Round Two showdown with South Africa, the Kiwis scrapped to a hard-earned win.
After trailing by 11 points at half-time, the Pumas kept the All Blacks scoreless in the second half, only to fail narrowly in their quest for a first victory over the world champions.
“When you take all the leadership we’ve taken out – with all the Crusaders not here – to have the opportunity for this group to go through with what they went through
is like winning the Lotto,” said Hansen.
“Our accuracy and combinations weren’t there, but they stayed in the moment and trusted themselves.
“You can’t just snap your fingers and get the end result just like that.
“It takes time together.
“It’s the same with defence. We tweaked a few things there and once you go past that, what you want from them is them to be able to show you that they can get out there in the heat of the battle and do that job that you ask them to do.
“You leave eight or nine of your frontline players out, your second group comes together and plays for the first time in four, five, maybe six weeks, had a couple of weeks to try and get ready for the Test match.
“These are young guys and they were thrust into Test rugby in one of the most intimidating sporting environments in the world.
“At times we were a bit rusty,” said the 2015 World Cup-winning coach.
“I observed a lot of things, and most of them were positive.
“I thought our defence was outstanding, but we let a few scoring opportunities slip. We will grow from here in the Rugby
“But we did a lot of good things and I thought one of the greatest things we did was at the end with all the young fellas on, we showed a lot of mental fortitude so I was really pleased with that.”
The side now turns their attention to a date with South Africa in Wellington next weekend, with the two also meeting in the opening game of the World Cup later this year.
South Africa started their Rugby Championship campaign with a dominant 35-17 win against Australia in Johannesburg.
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