Preview: New Zealand v Argentina

Fri, 07 Sep 2012 06:52
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The Pumas will be out to cause one of the great upsets when they take on the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.

The Pumas will be out to cause one of the great upsets when they take on the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.

The South Americans would have been encouraged by their fighting draw with the Springboks in Mendoza two weeks ago, but taking on the world champions in their backyard is another matter entirely.

The All Blacks have been a cut above the rest this year, following up their whitewash of Ireland by retaining the Bledisloe Cup in emphatic style, so anything but a bonus-point victory this weekend will be viewed as a disappointment for them.

Given their underdog status there will not be as much pressure on Argentina, so they should play with freedom and give their highly-rated opponents a full crack.

The visitors have been boosted by the return from injury of playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez and talented flank Juan Manuel Leguizamon, but the spotlight in the Pumas camp has been on former All Blacks mentor Graham Henry.

The World Cup-winning coach has been giving the Pumas the benefit of his experience in the build-up, and the sight of him in an Argentina tracksuit at their training sessions has unsettled some people in New Zealand who are concerned about him giving away too much about his old team.

His former assistant Steve Hansen knows that Henry's analytical skills mean that Argentina will be well prepared, and although the team has developed since Henry was in charge there is no doubt that his presence has shifted the focus off the Pumas.

There have been a few key changes to the side that beat Australia 22-0 a fortnight ago, but Hansen has indicated his respect for Argentina by retaining the bulk of his big guns.

Veterans Tony Woodcock and Conrad Smith return to the Test arena, whilst the rest of the changes all see quality players come into the starting line-up with Victor Vito, Julian Savea, Brodie Retallick and Aaron Cruden all getting an opportunity to prove their worth.

Argentina are likely to target the relatively inexperienced and diminuitive halfback pairing of Cruden and Aaron Smith for some special attention, but they will need to deliver the goods up front if they are to put them under any real pressure.

The conditions are likely to play an important role as well, with wet weather expected which should put more of a focus on the tight exchanges, so the Pumas will need their experienced players up front to make their presence felt.

For the All Blacks the focus will be on maintaining the momentum they have built up under Hansen by delivering a controlled performance despite the six changes, and if they are allowed to dictate terms then it could get quite tough for the visitors.

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: Israel Dagg is always exciting to watch and has hit some good form in the black jersey, whilst Conrad Smith, Julian Savea and Aaron Cruden will be monitored with interest on their return to the big time. In the forward pack Richie McCaw and Kieran Read will be key figures, and Brodie Retallick will be determined to show that he deserves his spot ahead of Sam Whitelock in the second row.

For Argentina: Skipper Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe will be crucial to his team's hopes, and experienced forwards Rodrigo Roncero and Patricio Albacete are going to have to fire to give him the platform to impose himself. In the backline Juan Martin Hernandez holds the key, as if his tactical kicking is marginally off then the All Black back three will make them pay.

Head to head: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Kieran Read are two of the best No.8s in the world so their clash will be something to relish. Up front the battle between Rodrigo Roncero and Owen Franks at scrum-time could be pivotal, whilst at line-out time Patricio Albacete will want to dominate the relatively inexperienced All Black locks. Aaron Cruden has a worthy opponent in the form of Juan Martin Hernandez, and both players should have a major infuence on the performance of the men outside them.

Recent results:
2011: New Zealand won 33-10 in Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 25-16 in Buenos Aires
2004: New Zealand won 41-7 in Hamilton
2001: New Zealand won 24-20 in Buenos Aires
2001: New zealand won 67-19 in Christchurch

Prediction: Argentina will play with plenty of passion, and could well have the home team under pressure early on, but you can't look past the class of the All Blacks who should win this one by about 20 points.


New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Ben Smith.

Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 Tomás Leonardi, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Date: Saturday, September 8
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19.35 (04.35 Arg time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: High of 15°C with a low of 9°C, periods of rain with northerly gales.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

By Michael de Vries