Preview: Argentina v New Zealand
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: Argentina is looking to maintain the momentum from the Jaguares’ remarkable Super Rugby season as they bid for a first-ever victory over New Zealand on Saturday.
Just two months before the start of the World Cup in Japan, reigning champions the All Blacks have named five uncapped players in the 23-man matchday squad as coach Steve Hansen looks at some of his potential options.
Hansen has rested eight players from the Super Rugby-winning Crusaders, a luxury that Pumas coach Mario Ledesma could not afford as all but five of his squad play for the Jaguares.
Ledesma has named 13 players that started the Jaguares’ 3-19 Super Rugby Final loss to New Zealand’s Crusaders.
The former Jaguares coach said Argentina has only learnt from their rivals and the franchise system that has served New Zealand rugby so well.
“They’ve been professional for many years, they’ve been dealing with this kind of thing for much longer,” said Ledesma of the All Blacks.
“It’s only recently that we’ve been seeing the new generation, like what happened this year in Super Rugby and with the Pumas, who are all lads from the system.
“They’re all lads trained here, who play here, who weren’t developed anywhere else and who are the first such generations we’re seeing.”
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Only Toulon flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, Argentina’s all-time record points-scorer, and Saracens prop Juan Figallo have been added to a Jaguares team that won 11 of its final 13 matches during the Super Rugby season.
“We have the utmost respect for Argentina. We know that we’ll be facing a confident, physical side,” said Hansen.
“Their players will have taken a lot of confidence and self-belief from the Jaguares Super Rugby season, and with the inclusion of their overseas players, there will be added excitement to their group.
“They will see this game as a massive opportunity to make a statement and it will be our job to make a statement of our own.”
Hansen has picked one Crusaders player in debutant Sevu Reece, a 22-year-old Fijian-born wing.
He’s been rewarded for a stunning 15-try Super Rugby season, while there will be four more uncapped players on the bench.
With skipper Kieran Read among the rested Crusaders, flank Sam Cane will wear the armband, for only the third time in his 61-Test career.
Blues pair Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane miss out, the former due to a hamstring strain while the latter is being rested.
Utility back Braydon Ennor, flyhalf Josh Ioane, loose forward Luke Jacobson and prop Atu Moli are the four debutants on the bench.
Argentina may never get a better chance to defeat New Zealand – the only Tier One side the Pumas have never beaten.
A solitary 21-all draw in 1985 sits amongst 27 defeats. The closest they’ve come since joining the Rugby Championship was a 26-16 scoreline at the World Cup four years ago.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith has warned Argentina not to read too much into the Jaguares fine run.
“Their results in Super Rugby would say they are going to have a really good opportunity. But I believe Test matches are different,” said the Highlanders scrumhalf.
“It’s going to be a hard game. It’s called a Test match for a reason.”
While the Jaguares were rampant in 2018, the Pumas have been toothless in recent years.
Since their impressive fourth-place finish at the last World Cup, the Pumas have won just eight of 37 internationals – two of which came against second-tier Georgia and Japan.
They’ve also finished bottom of all but one of the seven Rugby Championships they’ve competed in.
“From the ‘Haka’ they’re trying to impose a challenge,” Ledesma said of the All Blacks.
“So we have to strike the first blow and it must us who do something first.”
Next week, New Zealand will host South Africa in Wellington, while Argentina travels to Brisbane to face Australia.
Players to watch
For Argentina: With the starting XV consisting of 13 players from the Jaguares team that featured in the Super Rugby final, the focus will naturally be on the two Europe-based players. Stade Francais flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez will hopefully give the team the calm direction they need at Test level – especially against the mighty All Blacks. Saracens prop Juan Figallo will hopefully add stability to the Argentineans’; rickety scrum. Captain and flank Pablo Matera will need to provide the energy in the pack, while veteran hooker Agustín Creevy will assist with the leadership.
For New Zealand: You won’t call it a ‘b-team’, but without eight Crusaders players it is not full-strength. There is exciting wing Sevu Reece, powerful centre Ngani Laumape and the selection of rangy utility back Jordie Barrett on the wing. Ardie Savea and Vaea Fifita could be the muscle that overpowers the Argentineans upfront.
Head to head:
There are some intriguing contests all over the park. You start with the exciting fullbacks – Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina) and Ben Smith (New Zealand), both with bucketloads of attacking skill. The key could be in the halfback combinations – Nicolás Sánchez and Tomás Cubelli (Argentina) versus Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith (New Zealand). The set pieces are perhaps where the game will be decided and in particular the scrums – Juan Figallo, Agustín Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina) versus Angus Ta’avao, Dane Coles and Ofa Tuungafasi (New Zealand).
Prediction: This will be the 33rd meeting between Argentina and New Zealand, with the Pumas still on the hunt for their maiden victory against the All Blacks. Argentina’s only result against New Zealand came in a 21-all draw in November 1985 at Buenos Aires; since then, they’ve lost 10 games on the bounce against the All Blacks when playing at home. Argentina has lost their last four games played at Velez Sarsfield in Buenos Aires, including defeats to New Zealand in their last two games at the venue; the last time they won there was in June 2010 (41-13 v France). Argentina has lost 10 of their last 12 games heading into this fixture, including their last five in succession; the last time they lost more games in a row was a seven-game stretch from August to November in 2017. New Zealand is on the cusp of their 450th win in international rugby –43 more than any other team –and require a tally of just 26 points to become the first nation to score 16,000 international points. New Zealand has won 15 of their last 17 games, including a 66-3 defeat of Italy in Rome in their most recent fixture, their biggest international win away from home since defeating the USA 74-6 in Chicago in November 2014. Emiliano Boffelli (Argentina) made the most carries (71) of any player in The Rugby Championship 2018, six more than New Zealand’s best, Beauden Barrett (65). Ben Smith (New Zealand) made 15 clean breaks in The Rugby Championship 2018, three more than any other player in the competition. Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina) scored the most points (67) of any player in The Rugby Championship 2018, those points coming from four tries, 16/17 conversions, 4/7 penalty goals and a drop goal. Jordie Barrett (New Zealand) averaged 114 metres per-game in The Rugby Championship 2018, 40 more than the next best player and his teammate Rieko Ioane (74 metres per-game)
Prediction: New Zealand
Margin: 10 points
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matías Moroni, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 23 Joaquín Tuculet.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Jordie Barrett, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Ardie Savea, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jackson Hemopo, 20 Luke Jacobson, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Braydon Ennor.
Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 15.05 (18.05 GMT; 06.05 NZ time Sunday, July 21)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy, with a shower or thunderstorm. High of 18°C and a ‘low’ of 17°C
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)