Preview: New Zealand v Argentina
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND THREE: Argentina will put their credibility on the line in New Plymouth on Saturtday, against an All Black team experimenting with the line-up.
Now in their sixth year of the Rugby Championship, much more was expected of the South Americans than just three wins from 29 matches. They have never beaten New Zealand.
Two years ago, things looked good for Los Pumas when they made the World Cup semifinals and with the bulk of their squad joining the Jaguares to play Super Rugby the following year.
But in two games against the All Blacks last year they appeared to have taken a step backwards - conceding a total of 93 points.
Both sides have made seven changes for Saturday's clash. While the All Blacks are looking to build depth, Argentina are in search of a glimmer of confidence.
Coach Daniel Hourcade tried to put a positive spin on the disappointing history against New Zealand when he named his side.
"For us to play against the All Blacks is always a huge motivation and you end up with positive things, because facing the best makes you grow," he said.
But Hourcade could be forgiven for wondering what to do next. Easing up on Argentina's traditional bruising forward game in favour of a more open, running style has not paid the desired dividends.
When Los Pumas do play tight, captain Agustin Creevy is able to muster a powerful unit that has caused the All Blacks problems in the past, but he will be without one of his finest lieutenants this weekend with 78-Test veteran Juan Manuel Leguizamon dropped.
Enforcer Tomas Lavanini was also not required despite being cleared of further punishment after being sent off against South Africa a fortnight ago when he collected two yellow cards.
In all there are four forward changes and three in the backs with Hourcade saying he chose his best line-up, which includes the return of Nicolas Sanchez to partner Tomas Cubelli in the halfback positions.
If the All Blacks have concerns about their misfiring performances against Australia they were not showing it.
Instead, coach Steve Hansen did not hesitate to rest Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Aaron Smith, Ryan Crotty and Rieko Ioane who represent 201 Tests-worth of experience.
Sam Cane goes to the bench and Ben Smith goes on holiday - between them worth a further 110 Tests.
Up steps an injury-free Nehe Milner-Skudder for his first appearance since the 2015 World Cup final and a natural fit for the high-paced game Hansen is developing.
The experienced Israel Dagg and Thomas Perenara also reinforce the backline along with Anton Lienert-Brown, while Luke Romano, Ardie Savea and the bruising Vaea Fifita are added to the forwards.
Milner-Skudder's previous eight Tests have all been on the right wing but with Julian Savea out of favour he has put his hand up for the left wing role.
"He wants to give it a crack," Hansen said.
"This Test match is all about us taking opportunities. It's an opportunity for our players to grow individually and collectively as a team."
Hansen is keen to develop a flawless, fast game but the All Blacks could not fully deliver in their first two matches against Australia.
New Zealand went off the boil in the last 30 minutes of the first Test, conceding four tries after leading the Wallabies 54-6, and lacked accuracy and handling throughout the second which the All Blacks edged 35-29 with a last-gasp try.
But against an Argentina side already beaten 37-15 and 41-23 by the Springboks, there would appear to be room to hone their skills.
Players to watch:
For New Zealand: The return of Anton Lienert-Brown has given the All Black midfield a very different dynamic. Israel Dagg and Nehe Milner-Skudder may see a lot more of the ball on the wings. Ardie Savea will always be very closely monitored by the opposition, but fellow flank Vaea Fifita is the unknown factor. Luke Romano is somewhat of a contentious selection, but he would like to silence his critics.
For Argentina: We all know how dangerous players like Joaquin Tuculet, Jerónimo de la Fuente and Nicolás Sánchez can be. However, the key is how scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli performs. Benjamin Macome and Matías Alemanno are the forwards that will have to provide the grunt that has been missing from the Argentinean pack.
Head to head: The anticipation of watching the attacking skills of Damian McKenzie (New Zealand) and Joaquin Tuculet (Argentina) is tantalising. The battle of the halfbacks - flyhalf Beauden Barrett and scrumhalf Thomas Perenara (New Zealand) against No.10 Nicolás Sánchez and No.9 Tomás Cubelli (Argentina) - could be decisive. The set pieces will be where the platform for victory or defeat is laid - Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles and Joe Moody (New Zealand) against Matías Alemanno, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustín Creevy and Lucas Noguera Paz (Argentina).
2016: New Zealand won 36-17, Buenos Aires
2016: New Zealand won 57-22, Hamilton
2015: New Zealand won 26-16, London (World Cup pool match)
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
Prediction: The All Blacks are undefeated in 24 previous encounters with the Pumas and have won 22 on the bounce since a 21-all draw in Buenos Aires in 1985. This will be the All Blacks 14th time hosting Argentina, with their last 13 such clashes ending in 13 wins by an average margin of 36 points. Argentina earned three wins in New Zealand at the 2011 World Cup, beating Georgia, Scotland and Romania there. This will be the first Test played at Yarrow Stadium since New Zealand defeated France there 24-9 in June 2013; the All Blacks average 64 points scored per game from their three previous appearances at the venue. Los Pumas have lost their last four games away from home, the last time they lost more on the road was a five-game drought in 2013. Argentina have been outscored 180-142 from five games in 2017 thus far, the only other time since 2000 that they have ended a calendar year with a negative points differential was in 2013 (-58). The All Blacks have gained an average of 595 metres per game this tournament, more than 100 metres more than any other team in the competition. Argentina are the only team this tournament to have lost more than one line-out on their own throw (lost three). Rieko Ioane leads the tournament in tries (three), clean breaks (eight), and defenders beaten (13) thus far, while only Israel Folau (255 metres) has gained more metres than the All Blacks flyer (254 metres). Pablo Matera has made 20 tackles this tournament, the fourth most of any player and more than any other who is yet to miss an attempt. Of course Argentina can win, but it is unlikely. If you are a betting man, put your house on a New Zealand victory - by 20 points or more.
New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Ngani Laumape.
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 4 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 3 Nahuel Tetaz, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Matías Orlando.
Date: Saturday, September 9
Venue: Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT; 04.35 Argentina time)
Expected weather: Rain, easing to showers. Chance heavy/thundery rain in evening. Westerly winds. High of 13°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Matthew Carley (England)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com