Argentina set to test raw All Blacks lineup
New Zealand will gamble an unbeaten record in 25 tests against Argentina on the ability of a second-string side to substantially improve when the teams meet in a Rugby Championship test at Buenos Aires on Saturday.
The All Blacks fielded a similarly weakened side when the teams met for the first time this season at New Plymouth on Sept. 9 and were lucky to scrape home 39-22 after trailing until the 54th minute.
The Pumas applied concerted pressure in that match, which rattled many of the All Blacks’ less experienced players, who relied on a dashing solo try to young flanker Vaea Fifita to turn the tide and keep the winning streak alive.
If Argentina could have sustained the performance a little longer, their 32-year losing streak might have been broken.
That knowledge will motivate the Pumas in Saturday’s return match at Velez Sarsfield Stadium. Fatigue caught up with the visitors late on at New Plymouth and they were unable to sustain the game plan – based on solid defense, strong ball carrying and precise tactical kicking – which had served them well.
The All Blacks have chosen to rest five key players for the match – locks Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, flankers Sam Cane and Liam Squire and center Ryan Crotty – naming a team similar to that which played in New Plymouth. In doing so they have challenged those players to lift their game, hoping to avoid the hesitant start which hurt them at home.
”They did surprise us in a couple of areas in New Plymouth, I guess, and I thought they played really well and put us under a lot of pressure,” All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said. ”With 60 minutes gone it was a very, very tight test match, so clearly they got under our skin a little bit and we remember that and it’s meant we’ve got plenty of motivation to prepare thoroughly this week.”
Foster and coach Steve Hansen have denied the All Blacks are disrespecting Argentina by naming a weakened side, with the five missing players rested after heavy workloads this season.
A week after New Plymouth, a full-strength All Blacks team beat South Africa by a record 57-0. By changing the team on Saturday, the All Blacks risk losing the momentum they gained in that match before meeting South Africa again in Cape Town in a week’s time.
”I am challenging the team to produce similar performances in the upcoming tests, starting with the Pumas,” Hansen said. ”It is going to be a tough ask because they were pretty good against the Springboks.”
The Pumas will be heartened by their effort in New Plymouth and the return of several veterans, including backrower Juan Manuel Leguizam�n and lock Tomas Lavanini will make them far more formidable.
They are also more dangerous at home than away, where the effect of travel often contributes to their late lapses.
The Pumas know if they can eliminate the kind of lapse that allowed three late All Black tries in New Plymouth, they might keep New Zealand under enough pressure to record a historic win.
”Playing the All Blacks always represents a special challenge because it means facing the best team in the world and that motivates you in a very special way,” head coach Daniel Hourcade said. ”We have to be attentive to everything because if you make the smallest mistake they take advantage and score points.”
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Matias Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Emiliano Boffelli, Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Juan Manuel Leguizam�n, Tomas Lezana, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustin Creevy (captain), Lucas Noguera. Replacements: Julian Montoya, Santiago Garcia Botta, Ramiro Herrera, Marcos Kremer, Javier Ortega Desio, Martin Landajo, Juan Martin Hernandez, Santiago Cordero.
New Zealand: Damian McKenzie, Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Vaea Fifita, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, T.J. Perenara, Ngani Laumape, David Havili.