Preview: Argentina v New Zealand

Date published: September 18 2015

New Zealand have never lost to Argentina nor a World Cup pool game, so it's hard to understate the challenge facing the Pumas.

They will be the first team to take on the defending champions, a side who have lost just three matches since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup four years ago.

New Zealand have been so dominant that it almost seems strange that they aren't more overwhelming favourites to win the tournament.

Of course previous failures at the showpiece event have made people wary, as well as the oft-cited stat that they are yet to win a World Cup away from home soil.

Still, when you can justifiably argue that you have up to ten of world's leading players in their positions, it makes a team very hard to beat.

Argentina appeared to find one slight weakness when the teams met earlier this year in Christchurch, with Agustin Creevy scoring two tries from rolling mauls.

New Zealand clearly haven't forgotten, and it's been a clear focus for them this week judging by their comments in the press.

Of course it's not as easy as saying they are vulnerable to the maul. Firstly because getting attacking lineouts in the All Black 22 generally requires a penalty to set things up, while New Zealand have also shown they are very capable of using close-range lineouts as an attacking threat of their own.

Similar to the question marks over the New Zealand scrum against the very best set-piece sides, of which Argentina would expect to be one, these weaknesses are often overstated. The All Blacks are more than capable of holding their own in their weak areas, while their ability to turn the smallest opportunities into points makes them so dangerous.

There are question marks over some of their veterans, with Tony Woodcock certainly looking his age and Kieran Read having not quite hit peak form this season. 

Even so, they have more talent available to them than any other squad, and the basic skills among forwards and backs should be enough to see off Argentina.

The Pumas at least go into this one with no pressure. They will expect to finish second in the group, with Tonga and Georgia their rivals for that spot, and if they do so, the draw is actually rather kind.

The last time the World Cup was played up north, Argentina finished third. If things go their way, they will feel they could match or even better that result this time.

Players to watch: 

For Argentina: To beat New Zealand, you need to be able to cause them problems up front, and despite his youth, Tomas Lavanini has shown he isn't afraid to get stuck in. The second row went too far last year, earning a ban for an ugly clearout on Richie McCaw, but he provides the grunt in the engine room that is essential. His battle with Brodie Retallick should be fascinating, especially after he spent time with the Chiefs when he came through the ranks.

For New Zealand: How can we not go for Nehe Milner-Skudder? In a season he managed to establish himself, not only with the Hurricanes, but also with the All Blacks, and is now being tipped by many to be the tournament's top scorer. He has taken to Test match rugby with ease so far, and with his quick feet he is desperately difficult to bring down. Any loose kicking from Nicolas Sanchez and co will be quickly punished.

Head-to-head: Few would argue against Aaron Smith being the world's best scrum-half, but Tomas Cubelli has proven himself to be a more than capable adversary. Having got the nod over Martin Landajo, the Pumas nine will be keen to show off his game-breaking ability, while the Argentina back row know they will have to be alive to any darts from Smith, who is also brilliant at popping up on the shoulder in support.

Team news: There are no tactical omissions from either coach as both have named their strongest possible side. Argentina have a vastly experienced team, albeit with some youthful exuberance from Santiago Cordero and lock Guido Petti.

The All Blacks will turn to winger Nehe Milner-Skudder for his gamebreaking ability, and he'll be keen to impress as Waisake Naholo recovers from injury. The rest is very much as expected, although Victor Vito covering lock on the bench is intriguing.

Previous results:

2015: New Zealand won 39-18 in Christchurch
2014: New Zealand won 34-13 in La Plata
2014: New Zealand won 28-9 in Napier
2013: New Zealand won 33-15 in La Plata
2013: New Zealand won 28-13 in Hamilton
2012: New Zealand won 54-15 in La Plata
2012: New Zealand won 21-16 in Hamilton
2011: New Zealand won 33-10 in Auckland
2006: New Zealand won 25-19 in Buenos Aires

Prediction: Argentina have certainly benefited from their exposure in the Rugby Championship, and after mixing and matching selection in 2015, it will be good to see their first team in action. Still, New Zealand are the world's best team and should do enough to win relatively comfortably. New Zealand by 12!

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams

Date: Sunday, September 20
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16:45 local 
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Angus Gardner (Australia)
Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

By Paul Eddison