It will by no means be a stroll to the inaugural Rugby Championship title for the All Blacks when they take on the Pumas in La Plata.
It will by no means be a stroll to 2012's Rugby Championship trophy for the All Blacks when they take on the Pumas at Estadio Ãšnico Ciudad de La Plata.
Granted they are hot favourites to wrap up the title a week ahead of schedule. But as we saw in the reverse, Los Pumas can cause them problems.
What adds further fuel to that outlook – something that's already been highlighted by our prediction man – is that All Blacks coach Steve Hansen criticised Argentina this week for their thwarting tactics against them. What a fillip that is for the hosts, knowing they have him openly worried.
So don't expect them to stray from that style this Saturday, with a forward battle set to be played out while Juan Martin Hernandez and Dan Carter collide. Carter, alongside Aaron Smith, will be looking to impose a quick tempo on proceedings while El Mago and Martin Landajo go for territory. Despite the fact Smith has now paid his dues for breaking a curfew, one feels that going for Piri Weepu over the quicker Smith would have played into Puma hands. Therefore, expect more threats in the backs than previous visitors to Argentina, South Africa, who this week face Australia.
Yes, I hold my hands up to going for Argentina to prevail by two points against the Wallabies on the Gold Coast, but hopefully their performance has created a few more believers.
A boost to their cause is the return of Marcos Ayerza to bench duty, which arguably frees up Rodrigo Roncero to put in another of those 50 minute barnstormers. Ayerza was absent last time out and it came as a double blow in some respects as Roncero played for longer, subsequently thinning out his impact. Such is the boost that we are going for the veteran's battle with Owen Franks as our head-to-head, with both props having solid tournaments.
Ayerza is joined on the bench by Tomas Vallejos in the only changes made by head coach Santiago Phelan for their penultimate outing before they watch the Jaguars (second XV) in their upcoming Americas Rugby Championship, which takes place in Canada. That will be where the Pumas will hope to build up a squad depth for future campaigns, which look exceedingly bright following what has been an impressive debut term with the big boys.
Of course there's a long journey ahead until they can be challenging year-in-year-out with the probable champs. But now that they have the sure footing of the Rugby Championship to begin their ascent up the standings, those Hansen headaches are expected to become a regular occurrence. Hansen won't need the Nurofen just yet though, as it is a measure of these special All Blacks that their 14-game unbeaten run exudes an air of dissatisfaction.
A title with a round to spare might help with that.
Ones to watch:
For Argentina: While the likes of number eight Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and loosehead Rodrigo Roncero have stood out up front, centre Marcelo Bosch and right wing Gonzalo Camacho are two of the men typifying this Pumas debut season in the Rugby Championship. Bosch has covered well and communicated superbly defensively and his battle with Conrad Smith sees two similar players collide. But it is the threat Camacho poses on the wing that Argentina will hope is prominent in Buenos Aires. Exeter will be proud of their man and want him to bring this form back with him for the Heineken Cup.
For New Zealand: He's baaaaack! New Zealand's maestro is back after missing his side's previous two wins over the Pumas and Boks due to a calf injury and the timing couldn't be better. Whilst Aaron Cruden did an admirable job in Dan Carter's absence, it's clear the world champs have missed their number one pivot, who brings a wealth of experience and is a more composed presence in the number ten jersey. The 30-year-old will start in his 90th Test, as the All Blacks vice-captain closes in on his international century.
Head-to-head: As mentioned in the body of this preview, Rodrigo Roncero against Owen Franks whets the appetite. Two props who are at opposite ends of their careers meet on Saturday in what could provide valuable on-the-job training for the Cantabrian. Roncero has just two games left in his Test career yet his tackle count for each of his four Rugby Championship appearances thus far has him making over ten tackles. Should be good.
2012: New Zealand won 21-5 in Wellington
2011: New Zealand won 33-10 in Auckland (RWC)
2006: New Zealand won 25-19 in Buenos Aires
2004: New Zealand won 41-7 in Hamilton
2001: New Zealand won 24-20 in Buenos Aires
2001: New Zealand won 67-19 in Christchurch
1997: New Zealand won 62-10 in Hamilton
1997: New Zealand won 93-8 in Wellington
1991: New Zealand won 36-6 in Buenos Aires
1991: New Zealand won 28-14 in Buenos Aires
1989: New Zealand won 49-12 in Wellington
Prediction: Oodles of passion with a great deal of entertainment but the special day will not result in a victory for Argentina. New Zealand have too much class wider out – win by 10!
Argentina: 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (c), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Tomas Vallejos, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Martin Rodriguez, 22 Juan Imhoff.
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Brodie Retallick, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 Ben Smith.
Date: Saturday, September 29
Kick-off: 20:10 local (00:10 BST, 23:10 GMT)
Venue: Estadio Ãšnico Ciudad de La Plata
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Pascal Gauzere (France)
Television match official: Francisco Pastrana
By Adam Kyriacou