The All Blacks will look to clinch the Rugby Championship title with a win against Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The world champions were expected to lift the trophy in Wellington two weeks ago, but the Boks’ shock 36-34 win meant the champagne had to be put on ice.
If the Wallabies win in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, the All Blacks will go into their match already crowned southern hemisphere champions for an incredible 17th time in 23 years. If the Boks are victorious, the All Blacks will need to beat Los Pumas – possibly with a bonus point – to make next Saturday’s tournament finale at Loftus a dead-rubber.
Argentina will head into Saturday’s match full of confidence, having beaten the Boks in Mendoza and the Wallabies on the Gold Coast. They also produced a gutsy effort against the All Blacks in Nelson earlier this month, trailing just 18-14 early in the second half before the hosts finished strongly to claim an ultimately convincing 46-24 win.
Expect a similar story at the José Amalfitani Stadium on Saturday (00:40am Sunday, SA time), with the Pumas putting up a good fight for 50-60 minutes before being buried by a relentless black wave.
Argentina may, however, get some assistance from the weather – there is a 90% chance of thundershowers predicted for Buenos Aires on Saturday and rain can be a great leveller.
Whatever the conditions, New Zealand coach Steve Hansen will be hoping for a more clinical performance from his side, who gifted the Boks two tries in Wellington, as well as a better goal-kicking performance from flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who missed four conversions.
Hansen has made six changes to his starting lineup, including the return of centre Sonny Bill Williams, who will make just his second Test appearance of the year, and the selection of TJ Perenara at scrumhalf.
Sam Whitelock will captain the team in the absence of Kieran Read, who is being rested.
Stats and facts
- Argentina are yet to win a game against New Zealand in 27 fixtures (drawn one, lost 26); the closest they have come in this decade was a 26-16 loss at the 2015 World Cup, in which they led 13-12 at half-time.
- New Zealand have beaten Los Pumas by a double-figure margin in their last five games in Argentina, averaging 39 points scored per match in this time.
- Argentina have lost their last three games at Velez Sarsfield, a loss this weekend will equal their longest losing streak at the ground (four games between 1991 and 1992).
- Argentina will be gunning for back-to-back wins at home for the first time since 2016, after beating South Africa 32-19 in round two of the Rugby Championship this year.
- New Zealand will be out to avoid back-to-back losses for the first time since 2011 after going down 36-34 to South Africa last round; they trailed at half-time in both these losses in 2011 and trailed at half-time in the fixture against SouthAfrica.
- Argentina have scored 20-plus points in their last four games and have not scored 20-plus points in five or more consecutive games since a run of six games across 2012-13.
- New Zealand are the only side yet to lose a scrum this tournament (22/22), while Argentina have the worst success rate of any team in this facet (75%).
- Argentina (65) have scored the most first-half points of any team this tournament and also have the best first-half points difference on aggregate (+16), having shipped just 49 first-half points.
- Four players have made 50-plus carries in the 2018 Rugby Championship so far, all of whom are All Blacks – Ben Smith (53), Kieran Read (52), Jack Goodhue (52) and Beauden Barrett (50). Smith has also made the most breaks of any player (14).
- Argentina’s Ramiro Moyano leads the competition for metres gained (346) and defenders beaten so far (23); on average he has gained over 12m per carry, the only player to have made five-plus carries and averaged over 10m per carry.
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Sam Whitelock (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown.
Argentina – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Matías Moroni, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortego Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Augustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Juan Pablo Zeiss, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Matías Orlando, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Photo: Alejandro Pagni/AFP Photo