Wellington – The influence of World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry on a fast-improving Argentina could spell trouble for his former team New Zealand on Saturday as the All Blacks look to find top form in the Rugby Championship minus the talents of injured flyhalf Daniel Carter.
Henry, who led New Zealand to World Cup triumph on home soil last year, was appointed as a technical advisor to the Pumas in March and has been involved in their preparations for their inaugural Rugby Championship campaign.
Henry's inside knowledge of the All Blacks will have no doubt helped Argentina prepare to nullify New Zealand's strengths and exploit their weaknesses when they meet on Saturday at Wellington Regional Stadium.
“He'll have done quite a bit of analysis on us, because he's one of the best analysis men in the world,” All Blacks coach Steve Hansen told reporters on Thursday.
“Because he is a great student of the game, to have him prepare a side to play against you, at the end of it we'll find out whether we've got any weaknesses or not.”
The typically wry Hansen, who was part of Henry's World Cup winning staff, said he had a “split” attitude to Henry joining the Pumas, and was hopeful he had not given too much away.
“You're thinking here's a guy who has been intimate with the (All Blacks) team for a long time and hopefully he doesn't tell them everything,” Hansen added.
“On the other hand it's really exciting because we've moved on a bit from when he was here. They will be attacking us in different places, which will be great for us.”
Hansen was also mindful of the traditional strength of the Pumas' pack, bringing back loosehead prop Tony Woodcock after he missed the second test against Australia in Auckland late last month with a rib injury.
Hansen also gave the rangy Victor Vito the nod at blindside flanker to test himself against a pack that will provide more starch than the Wallabies and proved a handful at the breakdown against South Africa in Mendoza.
Captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was particularly effective against the Springboks and with the return of the dynamic Juan Manuel Leguizamon, the Pumas' loose forward trio will test Vito's physicality at the breakdown and around the fringes.
The All Blacks were also dealt a blow with the late withdrawal of flyhalf Carter following a calf strain, though Aaron Cruden has proved more than capable in his Test appearances over the past 12 months.
The team will also be boosted by the return of centre Conrad Smith, who missed the two matches against the Wallabies after having eye surgery where he will links again with Ma'a Nonu.
Nonu also moves back to his preferred inside centre role after the departure of the line-breaking Sonny Bill Williams for Japan.
Smith's return, however, is likely to add greater cohesion to the All Blacks' attack after Williams and Nonu did not quite gel as a combination and the outside backs were guilty of blowing several try-scoring opportunities against the Wallabies.
“If you let them play, they are lethal,” Pumas centre Santiago Fernandez told the Argentine Rugby Union website (www.uar.com.ar) of the attacking options the All Blacks have out wide.
“They are the best in the world and ... we know we have to play a perfect game.
“We are positive and think that things are going (well).”
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 (captain), 6-Victor Vito, 5-Brodie Retallick, 4-Luke Romano, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Keven Mealamu, 1-Tony Woodcock
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 (captain), 7-Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6-Julio Farias Cabello, 5-Patricio Albacete, 4-Manuel Carizza, 3-Juan Figallo, 2-Eusebio Guinazu, 1-Rodrigo Roncero. – Reuters