Inspired Argentina earn All Black respect

Steve Hansen (AFP)
Steve Hansen (AFP)

Hamilton - New Zealand have paid Argentina a huge compliment ahead of their third-round Rugby Championship Test in Hamilton this weekend by sticking with their premier line-up.

Previously the All Blacks have viewed clashes with the Pumas as a chance to experiment and still bank on victory.

But the landscape is changing, and the Pumas' historic first home win over South Africa 12 days ago after making the World Cup semi-finals and beating the Springboks away last year has put the All Blacks on guard.

Although New Zealand are in a rebuilding phase after losing more than 800 caps worth of experience following their World Cup success 10 months ago, coach Steve Hansen does not see the Pumas encounter as a time for experimentation.

The return of a fit-again Ryan Crotty to the midfield is the only change from the starting side that completed back-to-back hidings of Australia in the second round of the championship.

"We've got a young group from an experience point of view, we've got a young group from a leadership point of view," Hansen said.

"So giving them the opportunity to keep rolling and driving things is a better reward for us than giving an individual some game time."

It was a sign the All Blacks will continue with the helter-skelter approach that saw them run in 10 tries against the Wallabies in two Tests.

But Hansen also acknowledged the Pumas have one of the toughest forward packs in world rugby by adding lock Luke Romano to his bench as an insurance policy should the powerful South American pack make life difficult.

All Blacks selector Grant Fox believes it will be "a hell of a Test", describing Argentina as "big strong men, they're proud, they're getting better".

The Pumas will be without two of their star forwards with flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon and lock Thomas Lavanini both ruled out through injury, but All Blacks veteran Jerome Kaino still expects a tough battle up front.

Blindside flank Kaino filled the replacement lock role against Australia and was glad to see Romano called up for the Argentina Test.

"I don't mind getting in there just as long as I am out on the field. Playing against Argentina, though, who love to scrum and scrum for a long time... I'm happy to see a specialist on the bench. Very happy," he said.

When Argentina entered the Rugby Championship in 2012 they were regarded as the southern hemisphere competition's easybeats for the first two years.

But following their breakthrough win over Australia in 2014 and victories over South Africa in the past two years their target now is for a maiden victory over the All Blacks.

The nearest they have come is a draw 31 years ago, but number eight Facundo Isa said they were not daunted by history.

Instead, the inclusion of a shadow Pumas side under the Jaguares banner in the Super Rugby competition has bolstered the confidence of the Test side.

"Super Rugby gave us an experience that was very important to many of us, confronting the different franchises," Isa said.

"The team matured a lot, and that inspires us to beat New Zealand."

New Zealand v Argentina, Hamilton - 09:35

New Zealand 

15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino; 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick; 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody

Substitutes: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown


15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Matthias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro

Substitutes: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Mark Kremer, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano

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