Preview: New Zealand v Argentina

Date published: July 15 2015

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The Rugby Championship's most successful team kicks off against the least successful when New Zealand host Argentina on Friday.

In fact the teams' records in the competition almost exactly mirror each other, with the All Blacks having won 16, drawn one and lost one, while Argentina have won one, drawn one and lost 16.

Even their points for and against are remarkably similar, New Zealand having racked up 543 points, four fewer than Argentina have conceded, and the Pumas scoring 273, one fewer than the All Blacks have let in.

Those numbers show that the All Blacks' dominance in the competition has been very similar to Argentina's struggles and it's hard to see that changing in Christchurch on Friday.

Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade is using the game as an opportunity to test out some young players, while Steve Hansen is more focused on a few old heads proving their form.

That's not to say the All Black side is completely devoid of new faces, Waisake Naholo will start for the first time, while Codie Taylor should also make his debut off the bench.

However it is the form of the likes of Israel Dagg, Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu, which will be of serious interest.

The latter pair should be inked in for the World Cup squad, despite disappointing seasons for the Blues, but for all Hansen's protestations, Dagg is surely fighting for a place on the plane to England given the depth of options in the back three.

In comparison, Hourcade has chosen to rest a number of first team regulars, giving Rugby Championship debuts to Facundo Isa, Guido Petti and Santiago Cordero.

The latter has been highly-rated for a while, but has not had many opportunities against top tier opposition. With Manuel Montero ruled out of the World Cup through injury, this could be Cordero's chance to shine.

Having said that, Argentina have made it very clear they are solely focused on the World Cup, and it's hard to imagine them picking up a first-ever win over New Zealand.

They did however secure their first Rugby Championship win in their final game of last year's edition, but Australia at home and New Zealand away are very different challenges.

Players to watch: For New Zealand, arguably the most intriguing player will be Waisake Naholo, who will make his Test debut after a stunning Super Rugby season. While Ben Smith and Julian Savea are guaranteed starters in New Zealand's strongest side, there is one more place in the back three up for grabs. If Naholo can convert his try-scoring record to the Test arena, he might just earn that spot.

Elsewhere the team has a familiar look to it, but TJ Perenara will get a rare chance at scrum-half with Aaron Smith rested. The two form scrum-halves in Super Rugby, Perenara will have to settle for a back-up role come the World Cup, but this is an opportunity for him to show that he is an able replacement on the Test stage.

Of the Pumas newcomers, number eight Facundo Isa could force his way into Daniel Hourcade's best team. Hugely impressive on the November tour, the powerful 21-year-old will have it all to do up against Kieran Read, but has bags of potential.

Finally it will be interesting to see how Jeronimo de la Fuente gets on in midfield for Argentina. The 24-year-old only made his Test debut last season, but looks to be assured of a place in Argentina's World Cup squad, and might push Marcelo Bosch and Juan Martin Hernandez for a place in the starting line-up.

Head-to-head: For all their struggles in the Rugby Championship, Argentina have always had the best scrum in the competition, and they will target that area again this year. The battle between Ramiro Herrera and Tony Woodcock will be particularly revealing. The veteran All Black loosehead is playing his final season of Test rugby, and will face few tougher challenges than Herrera, even if the Pumas tighthead has not been as dominant this year as he was last.

It will be a similar battle between Keven Mealamu and Agustin Creevy, with the Blues hooker firmly established as back-up for the All Blacks in the final stretch of his long career. Creevy might not quite have the standing of Mario Ledesma at his peak, but his leadership adds so much to this team.

Team news: New Zealand have resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, with three Super Rugby finalists brought in, Waisake Naholo on the right wing, Ma'a Nonu at outside centre and TJ Perenara at scrum-half. Up front it's a familiar looking pack, while on the bench Codie Taylor will likely make his Test debut at hooker.

Argentina have decided to rest a number of key players including Juan Martin Hernandez and Tomas Lavanini, and have given three youngsters their first Rugby Championship starts in Facundo Isa, Guido Petti and Santiago Cordero. Tomas Cubelli gets the nod at scrum-half while it's an experienced pack featuring the likes Marcos Ayerza, Agustin Creevy and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

Previous results:

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's recent record against New Zealand isn't great and with a mixed team, it's hard to see them causing the All Blacks much trouble. Steve Hansen's side were not entirely convincing against Samoa, but we think they should win this one fairly comfortably. New Zealand by 18!

The teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ma'a Nonu, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Ryan Crotty.

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jeronimo De la Fuente, 11 Santiago Cordero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 5 Guido Petti, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

Date: Friday, 17th July
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 04:35 ART, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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