All Blacks look to wrap up title
The All Blacks made nine changes to their squad to face Argentina on Thursday with one eye on the next World Cup as they looked to clinch the Rugby Championship with a game to spare.
The nine include uncapped Canterbury Crusaders utility David Havili, 22, who is on the bench and appears almost certain to get a run in the second half for the reigning world champions.
Assistant coach Ian Foster said Saturday’s Test in Buenos Aires was “a massive opportunity” to expand the All Blacks’ options ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
“It is a chance to build real competition and depth in the squad, which is vital for where we want to get to over the next couple of years,” said Foster.
The other changes include Luke Romano and Scott Barrett in the second row and Patrick Tuipulotu on the bench, while senior locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are rested.
The imposing Vaea Fifita, who turned the game with a brilliant try when the All Blacks beat Argentina 39-22 in New Zealand three weeks ago, returns to the blindside flank with Matt Todd on the openside for his first Test this year.
The backline changes hand a start for centre Anton Lienert-Brown and right wing Waisake Naholo, while Ngani Laumape provides cover from the bench.
“We’ve selected what we believe is a quality team and have high expectations that they’ll go out and put in a strong performance this weekend,” head coach Steve Hansen said.
“We are under no illusion about what we’ll be facing this weekend.
“After having a torrid tussle against us in New Plymouth, Argentina will be even more determined on their home pitch and in front of their passionate fans. Our job will be to start well and to put in a performance for the full 80 minutes.”
On the championship table, the All Blacks are eight points clear of South Africa who they play in the final round next week.
The All Blacks have faced Argentina 25 times with 24 wins and one draw. They have won the southern hemisphere title in four of the last five years.
Earlier this month in New Plymouth, Argentina led 22-15 early in the second half before the All Blacks, sparked by Fifita’s try, scored 24 unanswered points.
New Zealand (15-1):
Damian McKenzie; Waisake Naholo, Anton Lienert-Brown, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read (capt), Matt Todd, Vaea Fifita; Scott Barrett, Luke Romano; Nepo Laulala, Dane Coles, Kane Hames.
Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, TJ Perenara, Ngani Laumape, David Havili
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