New Plymouth - Argentina will put their rugby credibility on
the line in New Plymouth this weekend against an All Blacks experimenting with
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 semi-finals 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 on Thursday.
"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 halves.
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 TJ 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
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.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ 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
Substitutes: 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
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Benjamin Macome, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz
Substitutes: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto Heilan, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Matias Orlando