Hamilton, New Zealand – The performance of two young All Blacks forwards against Argentina in their Rugby Championship clash on Saturday should go a long way to help clarify the make up of the team as they look ahead to the 2015 World Cup.
Tighthead prop Charlie Faumuina has come into the side for the injured Owen Franks, for his third start in his 10th Test, while rookie Steven Luatua has been given the opportunity to cement the blindside flanker role after two impressive starts against Australia.
Both should face a massive battle in Hamilton against a Pumas pack that is renowned for their physicality and powerful scrum with Faumuina going to be under immense pressure from the experienced Marcos Ayerza.
“The challenge is to get a good hit with a non-existent gap and to keep the co-ordination of the eight,” Ayerza told the New Zealand Herald on Thursday about the new engagement rules that puts greater emphasis on scrummaging.
“I am in favour of the positive scrums. The rules before this were making not very good props, not very positive props.”
The rangy Luatua has impressed against the Wallabies but will find it tougher task against the Pumas forwards, who have inspirational captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe back from injury.
The Pumas were hammered 73-13 in their first clash but resorted to a tight and physical battle of attrition in Mendoza, which prompted allegations of foul play.
Number eight Leandro Senatore was later suspended for nine weeks after he was found guilty of biting in the 22-17 loss, though fellow loose forward Pablo Matera was cleared of eye-gouging.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, however, refused to add fuel to the discussion and channelled former captain Tana Umaga declaring international rugby was not “tiddlywinks” when asked about foul play.
“They were playing South Africa so they would have been giving as much as they were giving. It's always a physical game and it will be physical on Saturday,” Hansen said on Thursday.
“We're not playing tiddlywinks so every now and then people probably do things they don't want to do. In the heat of the battle it happens.
“I don't think they're a dirty team. That's what everyone is trying to imply. I don't think they are.”
The Pumas have named what is essentially their strongest side with inspirational captain Lobbe back from a calf injury after he missed the two earlier losses to the Springboks.
Santiago Phelan rested Felipe Contepomi after the inside-centre had led the team against South Africa and the coach said the change was purely to give certain players a rest and to develop further talent.
The Pumas greatest challenge was to back up an impressive debut season and after the thrashing in Johannesburg, pundits questioned whether the side were facing a second season slump.
An improved performance in Mendoza, however, indicated they could still be as combative as last year, though that was not enough for Phelan, who is seeking his side's first win in the competition.
“It's good to be in the second year because we know what it is about and we know what is happening,” Phelan said.
“But it is also (tougher) because the other teams know us and they are always improving ...but that is how we improve and compete.”
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 12-Francis Saili, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Daniel 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-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 (captain), 5-Julio Faras Cabello, 4-Manuel Carizza, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Eusebio Guiaz, 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
Referee: Jerome Garces (France) – Reuters