WELLINGTON (AFP) –
There will be no shortage of power and passion when New Zealand defend their unbeaten record in their Rugby Championship third-round clash against Argentina in Wellington on Saturday.
The All Blacks have so far beaten Australia twice, despite problems with their decision making, while Argentina have taken confidence from holding South Africa to a 16-16 draw after a first round loss.
That draw in Mendoza two weeks ago showed the Pumas will not be easy to beat in their first year in the Southern Hemisphere competition.
But the All Blacks, who have never lost against the Pumas, are taking inspiration from past confrontations against the Argentines, with photos of their matches splashed across the walls of their team room.
With stormy weather forecast, All Blacks captain Richie McCaw said they are relishing the prospect of an intense battle against the formidable Argentine forwards.
“Regardless of whether it’s wet or dry it’s going to be a battle up front and our boys talked about it and they’re quite excited if it is wet as it gives them a chance to get stuck in,” he said.
The All Blacks will try to shut down two key players — captain and backrower Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, McCaw added.
“Lobbe is certainly one of the players who gets them going. They look to him for inspiration. They key for us is to limit his effectiveness,” he said.
“They’re quality players and we’ve got to make sure we don’t give them a chance to show what they can do.”
The All Blacks have made six changes including the promotion of Aaron Cruden to fly-half after Dan Carter pulled out with a groin strain.
Centre Conrad Smith and prop Tony Woodcock return from injury while lock Brodie Retallick, flanker Victor Vito and wing Julian Savea come in for Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam and Hosea Gear.
Argentina, who have made only two changes with Hernandez and flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon back from injury, say they are looking for the “perfect” game.
“For us, the most important thing is to go one step ahead of what we did two weeks ago against South Africa,” Lobbe said when they wrapped up training on Friday.
“We need to be perfect in defence, we need to be perfect in attack, I think the word for tomorrow is to try to be perfect in everything we do.”
Coach Santiago Phelan indicated that with the World Cup-winning All Blacks coach Graham Henry now in the Pumas camp his side is starting to develop the attacking skills that have been lacking in their forward power-game.
“We are trying to develop our game, our attack with our ball, so he is working on that,” he said.
Argentina have mixed memories about playing in Wellington where they beat Scotland 13-12 in the World Cup but also suffered their worst loss to the All Blacks, going down 93-8 in 1997.
New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma’a Nonu, Julian Savea; Aaron Cruden, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (capt), Victor Vito; Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith
Argentina: Martin Rodriguez; Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla; Juan Martin Hernandez, Nicolas Vergallo; Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Julio Farias Cabello; Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza; Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu, Rodrigo Roncero.
Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Marcos Ayerza, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Leonardo Senatore, Tomas Leonardi, Martin Landajo, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino
Referee: Romain Poite (FRA)