Preview: New Zealand v Argentina
The form book says it will be New Zealand all the way over Argentina in their World Cup quarterfinal on Sunday, but the All Blacks know from bitter experience nothing can be taken for granted.
Despite a raft of injuries forcing a makeshift look to the team, particularly in the backs, coach Graham Henry has the pack he wants to confront Argentina in what is shaping as a titanic forward battle.
But to get his top eight on the paddock means playing inspirational captain Richie McCaw, despite a foot injury which has limited his training.
Fullback Mils Muliaina gets his chance to become the second All Black behind McCaw to play 100 Tests after injury ruled out Israel Dagg - who joined Richard Kahui and Zac Guildford on the unavailable roster.
The Pumas have never beaten New Zealand in 13 attempts but history shows the All Blacks have trouble dealing with knock-out contests, notably losing to France in the 2007 quarterfinals.
"There's a lot of pressure and we've known about that pressure over the years. If you don't perform you're out," said Henry, was also in charge of the All Blacks when they made their early exit four years ago.
Argentina back themselves in a physical contest but New Zealand's tight five forwards are match fit despite injuries all around them.
Hooker Keven Mealamu was rested for the opening pool game against Tonga while Owen Franks, Tony Woodcock, Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock featured in every pool match.
Argentina have been bolstered by the inclusion of prop Rodrigo Roncero after the renowned scrummager passed a fitness test on Friday.
His selection means the only change to the Pumas side that pipped Scotland 13-12 two weeks ago is the inclusion of Leonardo Senatore at No.8, replacing Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe who suffered a tournament-ending knee injury in that match.
Argentina centre Marcelo Bosch said if their forwards could help the side stay with New Zealand in the early stages, they had a shot at causing a stunning upset.
"We need to control the ball, and give it everything for the first 15 minutes and not concede any points.
"If in those 15 minutes they do not score, we could show them that we are there and that everything is possible," Bosch explained.
While All Blacks have their most potent loose trio together for the first time in the tournament, Henry conceded only team enforcer Jerome Kaino can claim to be at full power.
Back row forward Kieran Read is underdone, having played 50 minutes against Canada last week in his first game since an ankle injury in August and McCaw is taking only a limited part in training because of his foot.
"I think Richie's got a challenge on. He hasn't played for a while and he's not preparing as he normally does so it's going to be a big mental challenge for him," Henry said.
Argentina's well-established game plan is built around a big scrum, driving in the line-out, a huge physical presence at the breakdown and putting the ball in the air which will test Sonny Bill Williams who has been converted from centre to wing to plug an injury gap.
Debate continues in New Zealand whether inexperienced Colin Slade is the right person to steer the side in the absence of injured playmaker Dan Carter but the flyhalf said he was not overawed by the occasion.
"I'm going out there to be me," Slade insisted. "I'm not going out there to be DC [Dan Carter].
"I'm going to play my game and lead the team the best way I know how."
Players to Watch:
For New Zealand: For playing in his 100th Test, you would hope Mils Muliaina has a good day at the office. It is never pleasant to bring up your ton with a loss. Then there is big, powerful Ma'a Nonu in the midfield and the silky off-loading skills of Sonny Bill Williams on the wing. But most of all you will look at stand-in flyhalf Colin Slade to see if he can produce the classy play of an injured Dan Carter, whom he has replaced. Up front the key players are No.8 Kieran Read and openside flank Richie McCaw (also the captain).
For Argentina: Without doubt the Pumas' key play-maker is captain and centre Felipe Contepomi - who is everything that the Pumas backline revolves around. If he stays calm and guides the ship, the Argentineans have a real chance. Up front you will look at No.8 Leonardo Senatore, who must provide the muscle the Pumas lost with the injury of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
Head to Head: The Argentineans' strength is in their pack and their renowned scrumming ability - which makes the showdown between Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock (New Zealand) and Juan Figallo, Mario Ledesma, Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina) a crucial element of this game. The other key battle will be the midfield - silky Conrad Smith and brutal Ma'a Nonu (New Zealand) against Marcelo Bosch and Felipe Contepomi (Argentina). The battle at flyhalf - Colin Slade (New Zealand) against Santiago Fernandez (Argentina) will also be intriguing.
2006: New Zealand won 25-19, Buenos Aires
2004: New Zealand won 41-7, Hamilton
2001: New Zealand won 24-20, Buenos Aires
2001: New Zealand won 67-19, Christchurch
1997: New Zealand won 62-10, Hamilton
1997: New Zealand won 93-8, Wellington
1991: New Zealand won 36-6, Buenos Aires
1991: New Zealand won 28-14, Buenos Aires
1989: New Zealand won 49-12, Wellington
1989: New Zealand won 60-9, Dunedin
Prediction: You will have to be an absolute fanatical Argentina supporter to even suggest the Pumas could win this game. Even in the absence of Dan Carter, the All Blacks have too much class across the park. New Zealand to win by 15 points or more.
New Zealand: 15 Mils Muliaina, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Sonny Bill Williams, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Isaia Toeava.
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (captain), 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Santiago Fernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Martin Scelzo, 18 Marcos Ayerza, 19 Alejandro Campos, 20 Alfredo Lalanne, 21 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 22 Juan Jose Imhoff.
Date: Sunday, October 9
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 20.30 (07.30 GMT)
Expected weather: Long fine spells. Easterlies developing. High of 17°C and low of 9°C.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), George Clancy (Ireland)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
AFP & rugby365.com