Preview: Argentina v New Zealand

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 08:43

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND FIVE: Coach Steve Hansen has raised the bar for New Zealand as they seek victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires Saturday.

It will ensure them a record-extending fifth Rugby Championship title.

The 58-year-old former policeman, who guided the All Blacks to victory at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England, wants more of superlative rugby that bamboozled South Africa this month.

New Zealand scored eight tries in a 57-0 Albany romp - the heaviest defeat suffered by the Springboks in their 126-year history.

Now Hansen is challenging a team lacking five resting first choices to match or even better the finest display by the world champions this season.

"I am challenging the team to produce similar performances in the upcoming Tests, starting with the Pumas," he told reporters.

"It is going to be a tough ask because they were pretty good against the Springboks."

But overcoming Argentina at the 50,000-seat Estadio Jose Amalfitani should not be unduly difficult judged by recent form.

New Zealand sit pretty at the top of the Championship standings on 19 points after four victories, three of them with the addition of a bonus point.

Among those successes was a 39-22 win in New Plymouth over Argentina, who faded in the final quarter as they are prone to do so often.

The dynamic ball-in-hand approach of the All Blacks has delivered 27 Championship tries, with wing Rieko Ioane claiming four, while the 185-point tally includes just two penalties.

Victory for New Zealand will take them to at least 23 points and beyond the reach of second-place South Africa, who host Australia in Bloemfontein earlier Saturday.

Argentina have not secured even one point from four losses, and managed only a paltry seven tries, including two from wing Matias Moroni and scrumhalf Martin Landajo.

Moroni starts against New Zealand, but Tomas Cubelli wears the number nine shirt with Landajo on the bench.

Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade knows what lies ahead for a Pumas team skippered by Agustin Creevy, one of the best hookers in world rugby.

"Playing against the All Blacks represents a special challenge because it means facing the best team in the world," he said.

"We have to be attentive to everything because they take advantage of the slightest carelessness and score points against you.

"If you miss tackles, no system works. It is that cruel and that simple. It you miss your tackles against the All Blacks, you are doomed."

New Zealand left centre Ryan Crotty, locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock and flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire at home to rest ahead of a hectic upcoming schedule.

This decision necessitated changes and Hansen has made six to the side that started against South Africa.

Luke Romano and Scott Barrett are the new lock partnership and Vaea Fifita and Matt Todd join skipper and number eight Kieran Read in the back row.

In the backline, wing Waisake Naholo replaces Nehe Milner-Skudder and Anton Lienert-Brown takes the place of Crotty.  

Argentina have changed four of the team that faded after half-time in a 45-20 defeat by Australia in Canberra two weeks ago.

Fullback Joaquin Tuculet, Cubelli, lock Tomas Lavanini and eighthman Juan Manuel Leguizamon replace Ramiro Moyano, Landajo, Matias Alemanno and Javier Ortega Desio.

Moyano fractured his right hand against the Wallabies, sidelining him for six weeks.

Players to watch:

For Argentina: When given the opportunity, Los Pumas have some dangerous backs - the lies of fullback Joaquin Tuculet, centre Jeronimo de la Fuente, flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli. However, this all depends on how their forwards cope with the pressure exerted by the All Blacks.

For New Zealand: You start with fullback Damian McKenzie, he of quick feet and brilliant hands, the power of wing Waisake Naholo, the pace of Rieko Ioane, the guile of flyhalf Beauden Barrett and the brilliance of scrumhalf Aaron Smith. Any forward pack lead by Kieran Read will be good.

Head to head: As always, there are intriguing battles across the board. However the pick from the backline showdowns is at fullback - Joaquin Tuculet (Argentina) versus Damian McKenzie (New Zealand). Up front you will look at the hookers - crafty veteran Agustin Creevy (Argentina) against skilful Dane Coles (New Zealand).

Recent results:
2017: New Zealand won 39-22, New Plymouth
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 25 previous encounters with the Pumas and have won 23 on the bounce since a 21-all draw in Buenos Aires in 1985. The All Blacks are enjoying an 18 game winning streak against sides from the Southern Hemisphere, their last such defeat coming at the hands of Australia in 2015. New Zealand have scored 4+ tries in seven of their last eight games against Argentina, the Pumas have scored at least one of their own in the last six clashes however. The Pumas have lost nine of their last 10 matches, a solitary win against Georgia the only positive result in this run. New Zealand are on target to break the record they set last year for points and tries in an edition of The Rugby Championship, currently they are averaging 6.8 tries and 46.3 points per game, last year's totals averaged out at 43.7 points and 6.3 tries. The All Blacks are the only side yet to lose a scrum this season in the tournament (32/32), they also have the best line-out success rate (93 percent) and ruck success rate (96 percent). Rieko Ioane has beaten more defenders (24) and made more breaks (12) than anyone else in this edition of the competition, whilst Sonny Bill Williams leads the way for offloads (11). Beauden Barrett has been involved in nine tries in this tournament already (three tries, six assists), more than any other player and two more than Argentina have managed in total as a team; the All Blacks star has also made more carries (49) than any other player. Codie Taylor is yet to misplace a line-out throw in this tournament (13/13), no one else has attempted more than five throws and not missed at least one. Despite playing only 55 minutes, Kane Hames has conceded more penalties than anyone else in this tournament (six). Pick your margin - there is only one winner here. We say New Zealand by at least 25 points.


Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Juan Martin Hernández, 23 Santiago Cordero.

New Zealand: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Thomas Perenara, 22 Ngani Laumape, 23 David Havili.

Date: Saturday, September 30
Venue: Estadio Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 19.40 (22.40 GMT; 11.40, Sunday, October 1, NZ time)
Expected weather: Some sun, then turning cloudy - only a 10 percent chance of rain. High of 21°C, with a low of 16°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

* Statistics provided by Opta Sport

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Argentina 6 0 0 6 0