New Zealand are expected to make it three wins from three in the Rugby Championship when they take on Argentina on Saturday.
New Zealand are expected to make it three wins from three in 2013's Rugby Championship when they take on the Pumas in Hamilton this Saturday.
Back-to-back triumphs over the Wallabies were an ideal start for Steve Hansen's side and before the Boks face Australia, the All Blacks can go top.
Fixtures against South Africa (next weekend and on October 5) are of course set to be pivotal, but New Zealand remain the tournament favourites.
The loss of Ma'a Nonu to an ankle injury is hardly a significant blow as returning to the side is Dan Carter at fly-half and Beauden Barrett on the bench. Furthermore few would argue that Nonu has performed better than Francis Saili in Super Rugby, with the latter set to be a long-term star.
22-year-old Saili, who will become All Black number 1126 on Saturday, has all the tools for international rugby, as we have seen for the Blues this year. Solid running combined with a strong defence, offloading and kicking game led in part to the Auckland franchise's resurgence in 2013.
Much like team-mate Steven Luatua – who had Richie McCaw and Kieran Read to help him through his own debut – Saili can also call on experience through Carter and Conrad Smith.
Nonu's injury, as you may have guessed, could work out positively for New Zealand, who know that it would be wise to blood the next generation before the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Expect a few more youngsters to get their opportunity on the end-of-year tour, with Carter possibly set to respond to that talk as an orderly queue of fly-halves forms behind him.
“We have gone from having the best first five-eighths in the history of the game (Carter), or certainly the best first-five in rugby (at the moment), to probably the second best in (Aaron) Cruden, who has really developed and taken the bull by the horns,” explained Hansen.
“Beauden is developing nicely. Tom Taylor's performance on Saturday was nothing short of miraculous, coming in as a fourth five-eighths with his confidence, so that creates depth but also pressure. It will be interesting how Dan reacts to that. You don't want him looking over his shoulder, you want him looking forward and trying improve his own game rather than being pressured by it. I'm sure he will, he's had a few challenges in his time.”
One of those challenges is set to be met in the form of a landmark in Hamilton on Saturday as his current 1399 points in Tests should see him become the first player to reach 1400 points. The fly-half has also sent over a world record 246 Test conversions and 248 penalty goals, with only England legend Jonny Wilkinson having kicked more penalties (255).
25/1 underdogs Argentina, who have been handed a 28-point start by many bookmakers will, as mentioned, not want a repeat of the debacle in the Republic. They quickly laid to rest that embarrassing opening defeat to South Africa with an improved effort in Mendoza.
They've admitted they weren't physically or mentally prepared ahead of that 73-13 hammering at FNB Stadium, with the reverse fixture certainly confirming that.
Santiago Phelan's selection is a good one too as Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe returns in a critical boost as his leadership and qualities have been missed. Phelan has also shown no sentiment for ageing players as Felipe Contepomi moves down to the bench, with the impressive Santiago Fernandez getting a run at number 12 outside Nicolas Sanchez.
It's fair to say this is looking more like their strongest XV – barring the absence of Patricio Albacete – but unfortunately they will not be in the same class as the All Blacks this week.
Ones to watch:
For New Zealand: Tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina has an opportunity to shine in the absence of Owen Franks and has a mouth-watering front-row battle with Marcos Ayerza to get stuck in to. However, all eyes will be on Francis Saili in midfield and we back him to come through with flying colours on debut. Hopefully he remains calm and lets his Super Rugby form come through as this is a player who should have many more caps in him.
For Argentina: Back in the side after missing the opening Rugby Championship games, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe's return cannot be under-played. The Toulon back-row is all class and just the sight of him back in the blue and white will lift his team-mates, who will hope to repeat the strong start that had when they met New Zealand on the road last year.
Head-to-head: Two of the best defenders around clash as Conrad Smith meets Marcelo Bosch. Both are experts in drift defence but can also run good lines – one feels it will be Smith doing most of the attacking on Saturday though. Smith will need to have confidence in Saili though, otherwise Fernandez and Bosch could unlock this unfamiliar All Black midfield.
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: No doubt here. New Zealand by 25 or so!
New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr Barlow, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Charles Piutau.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (capt), 5 Julio Farias Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Benjamin Macome, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Felipe Contepomi, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Date: Saturday, September 7
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Referee: JÃ©rÃ´me GarcÃ¨s (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Assessor: Lyndon Bray