Pumas aim for 'perfect game'
Santiago Fernandez (AP)
Buenos Aires - If Argentina are to pull off a major upset against New Zealand on Saturday in the Rugby Championship, the Pumas will have to do it with Dan Carter - regarded as the game's best flyhalf - back in the lineup for the All Blacks.
Carter returns after missing the last two matches with a strained calf, which means Argentina will need to ride their luck and avoid any lapses in the last 20 minutes, as happened in the 23-19 loss in Australia two weeks ago.
"We have to play for the full 80 minutes," Argentine centre Santiago Fernandez said. "In the last two matches we failed to maintain intensity. We have to improve this."
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan made only two changes to the reserves for the match in La Plata - located 60km southeast of Buenos Aires - with prop Marcos Ayerza and lock Tomas Vallejos in for Juan Pablo Orlandi and Leonardo Senatore.
"We have to play a perfect game, given they are the world champions and the best team in the world," Fernandez said. "We have to play tough defence and take advantage of the few chances we get. They don't make many mistakes, and we have to be ready to capitalise when they do."
Though they have never beaten New Zealand, Argentina could be difficult to beat at home after away losses to Australia and the All Blacks. They have losy their past three tournament matches away, but drew 16-16 with South Africa at home.
Carter and prop Tony Woodcock will play their 90th Tests for the All Blacks, who could claim the tournament title with a win.
The only other change to the playing 15 was the return of scrumhalf Aaron Smith, who was dropped to the reserves against South Africa 12 days ago in Dunedin as punishment for breaking curfew in the week beforehand. During the game, he replaced Piri Weepu and scored a brilliant solo try in the 21-11 win.
One change was made to the forwards reserves, with flanker Sam Cane appearing in his first match-day 22 in the tournament.
"We're halfway through a campaign and we've just got to tinker and get things - in small bits - better and better," All Black coach Steve Hansen said. "We're at a point where were not changing many things."
Argentina have been playing most of their matches at a slower, deliberate pace to offset the strength of three of the best teams in the world.
Hansen hinted that might change.
"All we see from the Pumas is that they are getting better and better," Hansen said. "What they've brought to every game so far is real physicality, a real enthusiasm and a big heart. They started to use the ball a little bit against Australia and looked really dangerous. So they might get some confidence out of that and maybe play some more rugby."
Weepu said he and his team-mates were expecting problems.
"They are definitely going to be hard to beat here in Argentina," Weepu said. "I played here in 2006 and it was not easy at all. It was very tough. They are very passionate and, obviously, the crowd does get behind them quite full-on. We've just got to try to turn that into positive energy for ourselves."Teams:
15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Martin Landajo, 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
Substitutes: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Tomas Vallejos, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Martin Rodriguez, 22 Juan Imhoff
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieren Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith