Mammoth task awaits Pumas in New Zealand
September 5, 2013
The sight of Ben Smith crashing over for the All Blacks has become a regular occurrence © Getty Images
The All Blacks will look to continue their dominance of world rugby when they host Argentina in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Kiwis are currently two from two in the 2013 competition and look hot favourites to retain the title they took last year. So far, New Zealand have barely broken sweat as they swatted aside their trans-Tasman rivals Australia to take that hefty piece of silverware the Bledisloe Cup back to the All Blacks' HQ.
New Zealand v Argentina
In the opening match of the tournament they eased past the Wallabies 47-29 and turned Ewen McKenzie's honeymoon period in charge of the Australians in to a nightmare. Round two of the competition saw the two come face-to-face once again and while the scoreboard was a little less one sided, it had a familiar look to it with star winger Ben Smith - who has scored five tries in the opening two matches - dominating the try-scoring charts.
Everything is pointing towards the All Blacks going into the end-of-year tour to Europe with the Rugby Championship firmly added to their impressive array of silverware.
It looks to be mission impossible for the Pumas but they are a hearty bunch. They bounced back from their record 73-13 loss to South Africa in the opening Test of the tournament to succumb to another defeat the following weekend, but one which showed plenty of character and heart.
Eventually it was the Boks who ran out 22-17 winners but despite Leonardo Senatore copping a lengthy suspension for biting Eben Etzebeth, they have their ranks bolstered by the returning Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and will hope their talismanic flanker is at his best on Saturday.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Take your pick from one to 15, the Kiwi side is packed with stars. Smith has lit up the scoring charts but we are expecting big things from Julian Savea this weekend. He has 13 in 13 for the All Blacks but is yet to score in this year's Rugby Championship. We expect that will change come Saturday.
New Zealand - Team News: Dan Carter returns for New Zealand having sat out the opening two games of the Championship due to injury. With Tom Taylor succumbing to the fly-half curse, Beauden Barrett is named amongst the replacements. And Steve Hansen has handed Francis Saili his Test debut at inside centre with Ma'a Nonu rested. In the front-row Charlie Faumuina replaces injured Owen Franks at tight-head prop with Ben Franks on the bench.
Argentina - Player to Watch: It simply has to be that man Lobbe. He takes the No.6 shirt and the Pumas will be delighted to see their skipper back in the side after injury. He is essential to everything the Pumas do well so expect to see him chopping down Kiwis left, right and centre.
Argentina - Team News: Santiago Phelan has made four changes to the side who lost to the Boks with Lobbe returning to captain the side as he replaces the banned Senatore in their back-row. Manuel Carizza replaces Mariano Galarza at lock while Felipe Contepomi is benched in place of Santiago Fernandez. Juan Martin Hernandez returns from injury and will take over duties at fullback, shifting Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino back to the reserves.
Juan Leguizamon crossed for Argentina in the last round of the competition © Getty Images
Key Battle: Juan Martin Hernandez has to find some form and consistency at fullback. He is quality, no doubt about it, but he needs to focus for the full 80 minutes on Saturday. His opposite number Israel Dagg is probably one of the two best fullbacks in the world, alongside Leigh Halfpenny. The Kiwis will exploit any indecision or errors from Hernandez so the match-up should be epic.
Trivia: Dan Carter needs just one successful kick to get past the 1400-point mark. He is currently on 1399 and is far and away the most successful points-scorer in Test history.
Stats: Another honour awaits Richie McCaw. He will play in his 48th Rugby Championship/ Tri-Nations match on Saturday and will join George Gregan at the top of the appearance records for the tournament.
Betting: Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is a huge 50/1 to score first in Saturday's game, with bet365. And if you think the Pumas might just come out of the blocks quickly, then 20/1 on the first-scoring play to be an Argentinean drop-goal could be worth a look. Hernandez loves them.
"I can't get too far ahead of myself. I've got to embrace the opportunity and get excited and go out there and show some enthusiasm." All Blacks debutant Francis Saili
"Now we are trying to build a team to get better and we have a massive opportunity on Saturday so we are going to try to take it." Argentina's Horacio Agulla
Prediction: It will be an All Blacks triumph by about 20 points.
Follow live text commentary of the Test between New Zealand and Argentina on Saturday, September 7, from 5pm (AEST), 7pm (NZT), 7am (GMT)
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.