The All Blacks will fancy their chances of cementing their place atop the Rugby Championship standings on Saturday.
The All Blacks will fancy their chances of cementing their place atop the Rugby Championship standings when they host Argentina at Wellington's Westpac Stadium on Saturday.
Lets face it, New Zealand beating the Pumas this weekend is about as sure a thing as a bet on Frankel.
The two sides have met 14 times since 1985 and the All Blacks have won 13 matches and drawn one. On paper, and after New Zealand's two commanding wins over Australia in its first two matches, this Test should be one-sided.
Whilst Argentina celebrated a historic draw against the bumbling Boks, the fact remains that their next opponents are in a league of their own at the moment and – worryingly for Pumas fans – are still yet to hit top gear.
Granted, the South Americans' last outing against the All Blacks (in the RWC quarter-finals) was a lot closer than many expected with the final scoreline certainly not a true reflection of how the match unfolded. In fact, Argentina threatened a monumental shock before they were finally subdued 33-10 thanks to a late Kieran Read try with 13 minutes left to make the game safe.
They'll attempt to rattle the world champions once again but won't pose a huge threat, as the travel-weary tourists have been handed no favours by a schedule that has turned a difficult task into a virtual mission impossible.
Whilst the team's excitement levels are at an all-time high since finishing third at the 2007 World Cup, it's only a matter of time when the demanding schedule will take its toll on a squad coming off two extremely physical matches against South Africa.
In the opening three weeks of the competition, the furthest New Zealand have had to travel was to Sydney and back. Argentina, meanwhile have flown to Cape Town, back to Mendoza, and now to Wellington – that's a heck of a lot more packets of peanuts consumed in the air than their Kiwi rivals.
Travel and airline snacks aside, I feel the tournament newcomers are also yet to face a stern examination. In Cape Town, it looked like Argentina were simply aiming to compete rather than win. In Mendoza, the Pumas reinforced the threat they pose at home – and their value to the competition – but could only manage a draw against a Springbok side that were made to look like rank amateurs at times.
That draw two weeks ago will also put the unbeaten All Blacks on guard against complacency. They will be wary – one hopes – of more brutal and accurate play from their visitors on attack and defence.
New Zealand will also have to overcome the Pumas' traditional strength up front, where their powerful props Rodrigo Roncero and Juan Figallo have been prominent and will need to be well contained.
Other than that, don't expect too many surprises from Argentina as the men in blue and white hoops resort to what's familiar against the All Blacks. But we still expect the visitors to give it a good crack… but a boilover is highly unlikely.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: The return of veteran prop Tony Woodcock to the forward pack strengthens the All Blacks for the inevitable scrum confrontation and Conrad Smith's return at center is likely to add order to a New Zealand backline which has been scratchy in the last two outings. The late loss of fly-half Dan Carter to a calf muscle injury might unsettle the All Blacks, though his understudy Aaron Cruden was in excellent form in the Chiefs' Super Rugby-winning campaign and all eyes will be on the young playmaker who gets another rare chance to show off his skills in the black jersey.
For Argentina: Adding significant steel to the side is loose forward Juan Manuel Leguizamon, who makes a welcome return after suffering a stomach injury. The robust flank will add some grunt to a loose trio that suddenly looks very intimidating following Argentina's outstanding work at the breakdown against SA a fortnight ago.
Head to head: Perhaps significantly, there are two main areas where Argentina could match New Zealand – the line-outs and at scrum time. The Pumas have two strong locks in Patricio Albacete (48 Test caps) and Manuel Carizza (25 caps) – the dynamic duo have plenty of experience between them and will provide a greater physical challenge than Australia. By contrast the All Blacks locking pair of Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano start together for the first time and are the least experienced – with eight combined caps – since Ali Williams and Keith Robinson packed down against Wales in Cardiff 10 years ago. With New Zealand's stock in the second-row department looking thin, Retallick and Romano have a chance to build a powerful partnership on the world stage.
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
1989: New Zealand won 60 -9 in Dunedin
Prediction: The Pumas will be desperate to follow up a confidence-boosting draw with a win, however ugly, against top-flight opposition. Sadly for them though, it ain't gonna happen against the world champions in their own backyard. All Blacks by 20-plus!
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Beauden Barrett, 22 Ben Smith.
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 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 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Leonardo Senatore, 20 TomÃ¡s Leonardi, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Date: Saturday, September 8
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 (04:35 Arg time; 07:35 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), James Leckie (Australia)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)