All Blacks braced for La Plata cauldron
September 26, 2013
Argentina's Juan Martin Hernandez is shackled during the All Blacks' visit to Buenos Aires last year © Getty Images
New Zealand will resume their quest for back-to-back Rugby Championship titles when they tackle Argentina at the Estadio Ciudad de La Plata on Saturday night.
Argentina v New Zealand
Victory over South Africa last time out extended the All Blacks' unbeaten run in this year's competition and they will enter their penultimate clash as firm favourites having never lost to the Pumas.
However, the hosts will not be short of confidence having given the Kiwis plenty of food for thought in their recent meeting in Hamilton. They will also be determined to deliver a better account of themselves than they did in the corresponding fixture last year when they shipped seven tries in a heavy defeat.
Argentina are still yet to record a win since joining the battle for southern hemisphere supremacy but came agonisingly close against Australia last time out. That result served as the latest step in their rehabilitation following their demoralising thrashing at the hands of the Springboks in their opener and it would be complete were they to upset the odds in front of their passionate home support.
Argentina - Player to Watch: Pumas captain and flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe is rarely lacking in terms of industry but expect him to raise his game once more for the All Blacks' eagerly-anticipated visit.
Argentina - Team News: Argentina have been bolstered by the return of lock Patricio Albacete who takes the place of Manuel Carizza in one of six changes to the side that lost to Australia in Perth. Eusebio Guinazu is named at hooker in place of Agustin Creevy, while four changes have been made in the backline. Martin Landajo has been named at scrum-half instead of Tomas Cubelli, Horacio Agulla has been replaced on the right win by Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino while in mid-field, Santiago Fernandez and Marcelo Bosch come back to replace Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Tiesi.
New Zealand - Player to Watch: Winger Julian Savea grabbed a try against the Pumas in Hamilton - can he repeat the feat in Buenos Aires?
New Zealand - Team News: Andrew Hore returns at hooker in the place of Dane Coles in one of two changes to the side that beat South Africa last time out. Elsewhere, Aaron Cruden will start at fly-half with Dan Carter sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered against the Boks. There is just the one change on the bench, with Jeremy Thrush coming in as lock cover, while Kieran Read will again captain the team in the absence of the injured Richie McCaw.
Key Battle: The back-row battle between Argentina's Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Pablo Matera and Juan Manuel Leguizamon and New Zealand's Liam Messam, Sam Cane and Kieran Read is set to be worth the price of admission alone. Expect plenty of grunt and a few fireworks.
Trivia: New Zealand's Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith will play their 50th Test together as a midfield combination, equalling the record partnership held by Ireland's Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
Stats: Saturday will be Aaron Cruden's 12th start in the All Blacks' No.10 shirt and he has tasted victory on each of the 11 previous occasions.
Betting: Fancy New Zealand to weather another strong showing from Argentina and squeeze home for a narrow win? Bet365 are offering 7/1 for an All Blacks victory by 1-5 points. Or how about the Pumas to stun their rivals like they did in Hamilton and notch the opening try of the game? Bet365 will pay 14/1 for a similar start to the game.
"A win is wonderful for the nation but our main goal is to keep improving. That's what everyone is looking after. Since we started the tournament our goal was to go step by step and get the best rugby. A consequence of that are results. We believe we can but each game is different. It's not about believing it. It's about doing it."
"It was amazing. I don't think I've experienced anything like it."
Prediction: Expect Argentina to raise their game but the All Blacks to weather a storm on an off the pitch and keep their title charge on track.
Follow live text commentary of the Test between Argentina and New Zealand on Saturday, September 28 from 1030pm (GMT) , 830am (AEST, September 29), 1030am (NZT, September 29)
All Blacks centre Ma'a Nonu signs some autographs for some fans during a training session in Buenos Aires © Getty Images
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