Christchurch - Fear of missing out on the Rugby World Cup rather than a need
to protect an unbeaten record against Argentina is shaping as a driving force
within the All Blacks camp ahead of their Rugby Championship Test on Friday.
The reigning world champions were way below their best when they scraped
home 25-16 against Samoa last week in Apia and they have only four Tests
remaining before coach Steve Hansen wields the axe and lops off nearly 25
percent of the squad.
When they wrapped up the traditional "captain's run" on the eve of
the Test against Argentina in Christchurch, skipper Richie McCaw said the team
were aware a rapid improvement was needed.
"I didn't need to say too much because most of the boys who are out
there realise that standard (against Samoa) going forward isn't going to be
good enough," he said.
"But you can't get yourself too much in a hole over it. There's
probably some reasons for it but the key is to get some learnings out of it and
make sure that the things we got wrong we don't (repeat) this week... The
expectation is we improve."
Hansen said players were "probably too mindful" that the August 31
deadline to settle the World Cup squad was fast approaching.
"Whether you have been here five minutes or whether you have been here
for a long time, of course they get anxious just like everyone else,"
"There is a lot of talent in this group at the moment. There are 41
players and everyone knows we can only take 31 to the World Cup so there's a
little bit of edge there and that's not a bad thing.
"It is about learning to cope with that and control it. And at the same
time operate within that because that is what we are going to face right
throughout the World Cup."
Reducing the handling errors and gaining domination up front were areas to
focus on against Argentina.
"The heart of their team is getting their set-piece right and they are
big men. The last couple of years it has been a big challenge for the men up
front so there's a wee bit of an edge there from our lads," McCaw said.
The All Blacks have never lost in 20 Tests against Argentina, winning 19 and
being held to a 21-all draw in 1985.
Although the South Americans achieved a first-ever win in the Rugby
Championship last year, when they beat Australia 21-17, Pumas captain Agustin
Creevy dismissed suggestions of weakness in the All Blacks from the way they
played against Samoa.
"No weakness," the Worcester Warriors hooker said. "But we
know that we are getting closer to them and we are learning about playing
against them and, one time, the possibility of winning will come."
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read, 7 McCaw, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jeronimo De la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 5 Guido Petti Pagadizabal, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Substitutes: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino