Wholesale Changes for All Blacks v Argentina; The Rugby Championship

Argentina v New Zealand - The Rugby Championship

From the Last Word on Rugby department.

With so many wholesale changes for All Blacks v Argentina on Saturday night in New Plymouth, it appears that the ‘rotation’ is being utilized during The Rugby Championship 2017.

The side that was announced this morning is very much changed from the team who played Australia; away and then at home two weeks ago. Several players make their first start in a long period, with a debut start for Hurricanes flanker Vaea Fifita.

Vaea Fifita of the Hurricanes breaks away to score a try during the Super Rugby quarter-final match. (Photo credit MARTIN HUNTER/AFP/Getty Images)

He joins his Wellington franchise team mate Ardie Savea (see main picture) in the loose. Savea and Fifita will bring a fresh, younger combination, with the 100 plus capped Kieran Read to guide them against Argentina.

Luke Romano, TJ Perenara and the returning Nehe Milner-Skudder will also start their first tests for 2017. Alongside them, Israel Dagg and Anton Lienert-Brown return in changes that appear to show that the All Black selectors intention of rotating players over a long season, something that brings rewards in terms of player fitness and welfare.

Wholesale Changes for All Blacks v Argentina

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said: “This test match is all about us taking opportunities.

“It’s an opportunity for our players to grow individually and collectively as a team.”

Hansen said that the side was targeting areas for improvement. “Not only in our preparation throughout the week, but in our performance on Saturday.”

The matchday 23 (with Test caps in brackets) is:

1. Joe Moody (30)
2. Dane Coles (50)
3. Nepo Laulala (5)
4. Luke Romano (27)
5. Brodie Retallick (66)
6. Vaea Fifita (1) – debut start
7. Ardie Savea (18)
8. Kieran Read (102) – Captain
9. TJ Perenara (35)
10. Beauden Barrett (55)
11. Nehe Milner-Skudder (8)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (38)
13. Anton Lienert-Brown (15)
14. Israel Dagg (65)
15. Damian McKenzie (4)
16. Codie Taylor (21)
17. Wyatt Crockett (63)
18. Ofa Tu’ungafasi (6)
19. Scott Barrett (9)
20. Sam Cane (46)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (25)
22. Lima Sopoaga (9)
23. Ngani Laumape (2)

Whenever making wholesale changes for All Blacks starting sides, the men selected all have had to of earned their start. lessons from 2007 must have been learned – with Hansen, a part of the coaching regime who experimented back in 2007/08. Todays team line-up is directed at longevity; rather than ‘finding out what a player looks like’ in a black jersey.

Those players to be rested are also a key part of the planning over a long season. They do not simply go home, but are still involved with daily training and conditioning sessions. With only two more games at home before the heavy-travel schedule begins, player fitness and welfare is key.

To refresh the side that runs out onto the field on Saturday, the squad depth is a conscious reality of The Rugby Championship. Six matches, with three of those played overseas, means having ‘fresh starters’ will benefit the ambitions of the team to maintain their status, and 2016 Championship title.

All Blacks Learn From Opening Matches of Rugby Championship

“We’ve taken some key learnings from our first two Tests against Australia and now it’s an opportunity to take those learnings into a Test match against an old foe who we know pretty well now.

“Argentina are a dynamic, physical team who are growing their style of game.”

“They are a proud people as well, so they’ll be desperate (after their losses against South Africa) so we’ll have to be ready for that challenge”. And being ready means being fresh.

Sam Whitelock is given a break after an especially long, and successful 2017 so far. Leading his Crusaders, the World Cup winning lock must be managed, to survive the remaining seven tests of this year.That requires a player like Luke Romano to step up.

That will also apply to Vaea Fifita. After his first test against Samoa, the opportunity to run out in an All Blacks jersey will be special. The tall flanker will assume a role in the lineout, as well as linking between rucks and the backline defense. Liam Squire was extremely impressive, so expect Fifita to want to show his capabilities, for further time on the park between now and November.

Ardie Savea is another who will be hissing when he runs out. He, along with Perenara and the recently fit Milner-Skudder, will all want to impress the Taranaki fans, as much as the selectors.

Argentina a Tough Side to Hold Down

The challenge in New Plymouth from Argentina is monumental. Los Pumas are always a handful, one that has never beaten the All Blacks–which is probably their biggest motivating factor. However, Argentina continue to ‘shoot themselves in the foot’ with their discipline. Juan Manuel Leguizamon is one who must inspire his team mates.

With two yellow cards in their last match against South Africa, retaining 15 players on the field is recommended. Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade will recognize that the passionate team are more often limited by their own mistakes, instead of taking advantage of the oppositions.

The All Blacks respect the challenge, and inform of an enthusiastic provincial crowd, will want to improve in their performance. Argentina a tough side to hold down at anytime, so caution is also a strategy required.

Ian Foster has spoken of their execution letting them down. “We’ve conceded more [tries] than we would like, but we have also scored a lot. And some of that attacking attitude has also gifted the opposition some of those tries scored against us.” [Nine tries over two games]

Defense is critical, as is skills execution. Dropped passes, intercept opportunities and failure to dominate at scrumtime, will allow Argentina to grow in confidence. A good start by the All Blacks would negate that, and with fresh bodies across the park, the wholesale changes for All Blacks v Argentina could be a masterstroke.

All Blacks v Argentina, New Plymouth. Kick-off 7:35pm (NZT)


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images