Argentina v New Zealand, Rugby Championship
Pumas target All Blacks for historic win
September 27, 2012
Santiago Fernandez lines up at inside centre for the Pumas © PA Photos
New Zealand travel to Argentina on Saturday to take on the Pumas in Buenos Aires.
It will be the first time the All Blacks have played on Argentinean soil in the now expanded Tri-Nations. Argentina have hosted just one match in this season's Rugby Championship which came back in round two of the tournament when they drew with the Springboks. Since then they have promised much, played well but are still searching for their elusive first win. It could and perhaps should have come against the Wallabies in their last game as they held a 13-point advantage with 21 minutes left, but Australia rallied and ended up winning 23-19.
The two teams lining up in the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata are at completely different ends of their rugby evolution. While the Pumas are testing the water in their first season playing against the big southern hemisphere three, the All Blacks have been one of the dominant nations in rugby for what seems like an eternity. They are four from four going into this match and are huge favourites to add a fifth victory.
While in other corners of the Rugby Championship Boks coach Heyneke Meyer has faced pressure to drop Morne Steyn and Wallabies boss Robbie Deans is never far from the headlines due to Quade Cooper's various vitriolic outbursts, Steve Hansen is flying under the radar in his new post in charge of the Kiwis. Morale seems to be buoyant in the All Blacks camp to the extent where they have allowed their inspirational skipper Richie McCaw to take most of 2013 off.
Argentina - Player to Watch: Horacio Agulla is yet to get the space and the time on the ball to showcase his array of skills in this tournament. Playing for the Tigers last year in the Aviva Premiership, he was a potent attacking weapon and scored plenty of tries but he is yet to illustrate this in the Rugby Championship - La Plata could be the perfect stage for this to happen.
Argentina - Team News: Pumas coach Santiago Phelan has kept the faith with the same XV that narrowly lost to the Wallabies a fortnight ago. The only changes occur on the bench where Marcos Ayerza replaces Juan Pablo Orlandi and Tomas Vallejos comes in for Leonardo Senatore.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Aaron Smith could tie down the scrum-half berth for years to come for the Kiwis. He has just seven caps to his name but aged 23, he could - if he continues to play as well as he has done so far - reach the 50-cap mark with ease.
Dan Carter is back for the Kiwis © Getty Images
New Zealand - Team News: Dan Carter and Aaron Smith return for the All Blacks at half-back which means Aaron Cruden and Piri Weepu drop to the bench. There are more changes among the replacements where Sam Cane replaces Victor Vito and Ben Smith is given the nod ahead of Tamati Ellison.
Key Battle: The battle between the flamboyant Juan Martin Hernandez and the consistently brilliant Dan Carter should be a memorable one. Hernandez has all the ability to shock the All Blacks but he can sometimes struggle from the kicking tee. Carter, in turn, is the complete fly-half.
Trivia: Dan Carter and Tony Woodcock will become the fifth and sixth players to reach the 90-cap mark for the All Blacks when they take to the field on Saturday.
Stats: Argentina last entertained New Zealand in Buenos Aires back in 2006 - only four players in the Pumas' squad for Saturday played that day - Juan Martin Hernandez, Rodrigo Roncero, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
"Our objective is to improve match by match. In defence the players are full of confidence, we're getting better and as a consequence the results will follow." - Argentina coach Santiago Phelan
"The team has really enjoyed the build-up in Buenos Aires and the culture that the country has to offer, but we know that it will be down to business on Saturday and the team are excited by that challenge." - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen
Prediction: It will be another valiant effort from the Pumas but the Kiwis will have too much at their disposal and should win by a margin of ten points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.