Preview: Argentina v New Zealand

Date published: September 29 2013

New Zealand travel to La Plata to face the Pumas with the possibility of back-to-back Rugby Championship titles on the line.

New Zealand travel to La Plata to face the Pumas with the possibility of back-to-back Rugby Championship titles on the line.

The world champions have faced a substantial challenge to their throne this season from South Africa, with events in Auckland two weeks ago somewhat overshadowing the general excellence of their play.

Yes the wrongful sending off of Bismarck du Plessis came at a poignant moment with the Springboks in the ascendancy, but a South African win was never guaranteed even with 15 men on the park.

New Zealand had the attention taken off them by du Plessis and referee Romain Poite, but truth be told they still looked like certain winners, if not tested more than they have been by some time.

Even losing Dan Carter failed to truly stop them, Beauden Barrett entering the fray and impressing. Barrett misses out on the starting fly-half berth in Argentina, with Aaron Cruden slotting in.

Richie McCaw was another notable absentee against South Africa, with Sam Cane ably filling his boots. The Chiefs openside will do the same against Argentina as he continues to impress on the Test scene whenever he has been given an opportunity.

Kieran Read, who is a doubt for Saturday, and Ben Smith lead the way when it comes to outstanding form for the All Blacks and both players should really be in contention for IRB Honours come the end of the year – Smith especially given that he is currently enjoying a rich strike rate, sitting top of the try scoring charts with five, including a hat-trick against Australia.

The levelling conditions of howling rain and wind when the All Blacks hosted Argentina at the beginning of September saw New Zealand struggle in a manner that very few expected.

Argentina's troublesome scrum put the All Blacks under unusual pressure and Juan Manuel Leguizamon had the Pumas in front for nearly half an hour at 10-0.

Those kind of situations remain fairly unprecedented for Argentina and they subsequently fell away due to a combination of indiscipline and defensive lapses. It was a harsh lesson learned, because just for a fleeting second a Pumas victory didn't seem like such a strange outcome.

Argentina continue to gradually flourish but without winning; their narrow losses to South Africa at home and Australia by a point in Perth will both still sting.

A substantial amount of pressure lies on their shoulders to finally notch up that first Rugby Championship win in the final fixture at home to the Wallabies in Rosario, whereas nobody truthfully expects them to win against New Zealand.

Therein lies their opportunity. Completely written off after their 73-13 hounding against the Springboks, they left Heyneke Meyer's side sweating one week later.

Saturday's team is a strong one, built around Nicolás Sanchez and Marcelo Bosch in the backs and the bulk of Patricio Albacete and Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe up front. The main reason for Argentina's introduction into The Rugby Championship was to see them improve, which is clearly happening.

Their back-row in particular has been brilliant. Fernández Lobbe oozes class as ever whilst Juan Manuel Leguizamon has bagged three tries in Argentina's last three games – enjoying somewhat of a resurgence at the base of the scrum. In the openside, Pablo Matera, Argentina have a talent to guide them for the next decade – taking the baton from the two men either side of him.

Surprise is Argentina's best weapon. They have scored the first points in their last three matches against South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, but now need to make that early intensity last for the full 80. Add in a raucous home crowd baying for that first victory and the All Blacks have a difficult challenge.

Ones to Watch:

For Argentina: A player whose stock is rapidly rising. Marcelo Bosch will soon be the latest addition to Saracens' impressive roster, but for now he is one of Argentina's biggest assets. An elusive centre with fine hands and a good eye for the line, Bosch was on the scoresheet against South Africa in Mendoza and is a huge threat.

For New Zealand: The All Blacks fly-half shuffle continues with the return of Aaron Cruden to the number ten jersey. Arguably the best of the bunch when it comes to form in 2013, Cruden guided the Chiefs to consecutive Super Rugby titles and with Dan Carter spending the majority of the year on the sidelines has been the number one fly-half. Barrett's impressive cameo against South Africa wasn't enough for him to win the shirt, underlining Cruden's talent.

Head to Head: Looking back to Hamilton, Juan Figallo for the majority of the match picked the pockets of first Tony Woodcock and then Wyatt Crockett. The Montpellier man has been the outstanding tighthead in the tournament so far and at only 25 will keep on improving. Woodcock has seen and done it all – but does he have the necessary bite left in him? An effective scrum and accuracy off the tee from Sanchez could cause New Zealand problems.

Previous results:

2013: New Zealand won 28-13 in Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 54-15 in La Plata
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

Prediction: Argentina as ever will prove problematic to overcome on home soil and provide a physical battle in the set-piece, but the world champions have too much skill and quality to let this one slip away. They may even secure their title with that try bonus point. New Zealand by 12!

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Juan Martín Hernandez, 14 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (captain), 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Julio Farias Cabello, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23 Horacio Agulla.

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23