Preview: New Zealand v Argentina

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 10:08
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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND THREE: New Zealand paid Argentina a huge compliment ahead of their Test in Hamilton this weekend.

The All Blacks stuck with their premier line-up for the outing.

Previously the All Blacks have viewed clashes with the Pumas as a chance to experiment and still bank on victory.

But the landscape is changing, and the Pumas' historic first home win over South Africa 12 days ago after making the World Cup semifinals and beating the Springboks away last year has put the All Blacks on guard.

Although New Zealand are in a rebuilding phase after losing more than 800 caps worth of experience following their World Cup success 10 months ago, coach Steve Hansen does not see the Pumas encounter as a time for experimentation.

The return of a fit-again Ryan Crotty to the midfield is the only change from the starting side that completed back-to-back hidings of Australia in the second round of the championship.

"We've got a young group from an experience point of view, we've got a young group from a leadership point of view," Hansen said.

"So giving them the opportunity to keep rolling and driving things is a better reward for us than giving an individual some game time."

It was a sign the All Blacks will continue with the helter-skelter approach that saw them run in 10 tries against the Wallabies in two Tests.

But Hansen also acknowledged the Pumas have one of the toughest forward packs in the game by adding lock Luke Romano to his bench as an insurance policy should the powerful South American pack make life difficult.

All Blacks selector Grant Fox believes it will be "a hell of a test", describing Argentina as "big strong men, they're proud, they're getting better".

The Pumas will be without two of their star forwards with flank Juan Manuel Leguizamon and lock Thomas Lavanini both ruled out through injury, but All Blacks veteran Jerome Kaino still expects a tough battle up front.

Blindside flank Kaino filled the replacement lock role against Australia and was glad to see Romano called up for the Argentina Test.

"I don't mind getting in there just as long as I am out on the field. Playing against Argentina, though, who love to scrum and scrum for a long time, I'm happy to see a specialist on the bench. Very happy," he said.

When Argentina entered the Rugby Championship in 2012 they were regarded as the Southern Hemisphere competition's easy beats for the first two years.

But following their breakthrough win over Australia in 2014 and victories over South Africa in the past two years their target now is for a maiden victory over the All Blacks.

The nearest they have come is a draw 31 years ago, but No.8 Facundo Isa said they were not daunted by history.

Instead, the inclusion of a shadow Pumas side under the Jaguares banner in the Super Rugby competition has bolstered the confidence of the Test side.

"Super Rugby gave us the experience that was very important to many of us, confronting the different franchises," Isa said.

"The team matured a lot, and that inspires us to beat New Zealand."

Players to watch:

For New Zealand: You can watch the entire team and enjoy their class and skill. However, the return of Ryan Crotty brings a stability to the backline that the skilful Malakai Fekitoa doesn't always provide. You will enjoy the raw power of Julian Savea with the ball in hand, the class and skill of Beauden Barrett, surely the world's best flyhalf, and the cheekiness of Aaron Smith at scrumhalf. Kieran Read will again show why he is the world's best No.8, with Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick providing the muscle. Dane Coles' stock are likely to continue rising.

For Argentina: The Pumas are not short of skill and pace in the backline, but the key men for them are inside centre Juan Martin Hernández and flyhalf, Nicolas Sanchez. The service of scrumhalf Martin Landajo will also be key. Argentina's best player by far and the find of the year is No.8 Facundo Isa, a player of much energy and muscle. Pablo Matera will also be busy around the breakdown area. Finally, there is the determination of veteran captain Agustin Creevy, which will be required to keep his team focussed if they are to fall behind on the scoreboard.

Head to head: So many interesting battles across the field, but at the top of the list must be at flyhalf - Beauden Barrett (New Zealand) against Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina). They are the men that will not only marshal their respective teams around the field but also provide the creative moments. Ryan Crotty (New Zealand) against Juan Martin Hernández (Argentina) at inside centre will provide an equally intriguing sideshow. The best of the battles up front must surely be the two top No.8s in the world - Kieran Read (New Zealand) against Facundo Isa (Argentina) - two players of great skill and determination. The set pieces will obviously also be important.

Recent results:
2015: New Zealand won 39-18, Christchurch
2014: New Zealand won 34-13, La Plata
2014: New Zealand won 28-9, Napier
2013: New Zealand won 33-15, La Plata
2013: New Zealand won 28-13, Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 54-15, La Plata
2012: New Zealand won 21-5, Wellington
2011: New Zealand won 33-10, Auckland (World Cup quarterfinal)
2006: New Zealand won 25-19, Buenos Aires

Statistical review: The All Blacks are unbeaten in their 22 encounters with Argentina, winning 21 and drawing just once in the second ever meeting between the sides in 1985. New Zealand have won all 12 home games against Argentina, scoring 77 tries in the process, an average of 6.4 per game. The All Blacks have won 10 of their 11 games at FMG Stadium, Waikato, winning their last five in a row at the venue. Argentina will be aiming to record back-to-back wins in The Rugby Championship for the first time ever after beating South Africa in their last match. The Pumas'  three victories in The Rugby Championship have come in their last six games in the competition, this after failing to win any of their first 17. The All Blacks have not lost at home since September 2009 (v South Africa) winning 42 games in a row since. Julian Savea has scored eight tries against Argentina, his joint-most against a single opponent (level with England); should he score a hat-trick he would equal Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu (both 11 against Australia) for the most tries by a Tier One player against a single opponent. Savea has scored four hat-tricks in his Test career so far, of Tier One players only Jeff Wilson has scored more (five). New Zealand have conceded fewer than 10 points in each of their last three Tests, the last time they pulled off a longer such streak was in November 2008 with wins against Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England in Europe. Beauden Barrett has been directly involved in more tries than any other player (four - one try, three assists) in the competition so far and has also gained the most metres (157), beaten the most defenders (12) and made the joint-most clean breaks (5).

Prediction: Argentina are the team most likely to provide New Zealand with their toughest test in the Rugby Championship. They play with determination and confidence. It will certainly be close for the first hour. However, the class and poise of the All Blacks mean they will ease clear in the last quarter and win by about 15 points.

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

* Statistical data provided by Opta Sport

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RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
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Team P W D L Pts
New Zealand 6 6 0 0 30
Australia 6 3 0 3 14
South Africa 6 2 0 4 10
Argentina 6 1 0 5 5