The All Blacks return to La Plata on Saturday, a venue that seems to suit them given that they’ve notched a combined 87 points in their last two stopovers. Of course one could easily argue that anywhere will do for New Zealand, with an average historical points spread of more than 25 and only a solitary draw in 1985 sparing the records from a complete whitewash. The long and short of it is – it’s going to take an unprecedented effort for the Pumas to win.
Unfortunately for Argentina, they’ll have to attempt such a feat minus another key back rower, with Juan Manuel Leguizamón joining Pablo Matera on the sidelines. Replacement Benjamín Macome is a bruising runner, but not the same type of all-action performer. Thankfully second row tyro Tomás Lavanini is available again after serving a one-match suspension, and his enormous physical presence will be most welcome in the set piece and at the breakdown.
Martín Landajo has paid the price for an ordinary effort against the Wallabies, with Tomás Cubelli promoted to the starting scrumhalf position. The only other changes are rotational, with Lucas Noguera Paz, Santiago González Iglesias, and Horacio Agulla taking the spots of Bruno Postiglioni, Jerónimo de la Fuente, and Lucas González Amorosino in the reserves.
New Zealand will be absent rapidly improving hooker Dane Coles, who stayed behind with his heavily pregnant wife, meaning Keven Mealamu starts for the first time since November. Bay of Plenty rake Nathan Harris is in line to make his test debut from the bench. Sam Whitelock and Jerome Kaino have recovered from rib and elbow injuries, respectively, to take their place in the run-on side, with Jeremy Thrush a reserve and Steven Luatua out of the side completely.
Aaron Cruden’s extracurricular excursion has cost him the no10 jersey for the time being, so Beauden Barrett once again gets the call at no10, with Colin Slade providing cover. Ma’a Nonu’s broken arm hands an opportunity to rambunctious Malakai Fekitoa, with Ryan Crotty still a bit short of fitness after recovering from a cracked cheekbone. Israel Dagg’s return to form continues to keep Cory Jane parked on the bench.
The Pumas got the edge in the scrum in their last meeting, and should do again, but their lineout could struggle with Retallick and especially Whitelock in the way. Leguizamón’s absence will be felt in the loose, and with clear skies in the forecast the stage is set for Barrett’s silky running skills to shine. Expect a similar outcome to their previous encounter, take New Zealand by 20.
ARGENTINA vs NEW ZEALAND
Saturday, September 27, 22:10 GMT, La Plata
Referee: Craig Joubert (SARU)
Assistants: Jérôme Garcès (FFR) & Leighton Hodges (WRU)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (SARU)