Six changes to All Blacks starting XV versus Argentina

Six changes to All Blacks starting XV versus Argentina

Forced to make six changes to the All Blacks starting XV versus Argentina this weekend, the New Zealand team aim for improvement and ‘no more surprises’ ahead of the Test against Argentina on Sunday.

With kick-off scheduled for early evening in Buenos Aires, it again is broadcast at the right time for a late breakfast in New Zealand. Perfect for many to sit and enjoy this Rugby Championship clash. A vital one too, so with all the positives around the fixture, it is key that preparation and self-examination is performed. One way to prove that is with a SWOT analysis to identify the teams Strengths and Weakness, Opportunities and Threats.

First up though, meet the two teams (beginning with the hosts) Los Pumas. The below list is the available squad for head coach Mario Ledesma to select his match day 23 from [tbc].

The hosts have had ample time to come down from the highs of firstly defeating South Africa early this month, and then claiming their first win in Australia for 35 years. In the elongated preparation time, it allows for the side to take a deep breath, and aim fair and square, right in the eye of the All Blacks.

All Blacks must show improvement in heat of Argentina

Visiting Buenos Aires is no longer the unknown factor it once was. No longer the hidden concerns for management. And that showed in the sides well-measured approach to travel, acclimatizing, and in the players ‘down time’. This included a relaxed walk through the host city and a unique schedule; visiting a low-security prison, where they engaged with a team made up of prisoners from Fundación Espartanos Prison.

It is this unfamiliar territory which is one of the Threats to the All Blacks. Even with the imported logistics, it is not like home. Players are adapting to new surrounds, so the main hazards the All Blacks starting XV is to be 100% in their preparation, as well as allowing for a fully relaxed group, which is able to ‘switch on’ when it is required.

The heat might also be one factor, although the spring climate will not be as daunting as it once was. And while for professional sportsmen, they are now comfortable with managing foreign travel and their downtime, it is all provided the motivation factor has been prepared too. How the side bounces back from a rare loss will show the Strength of the squad depth in 2018.

So within the starting XV, several are being given a new challenge, and others are returning from injury or rest. It is an opportunity that will demonstrate each teams ability to survive the threats of International rugby.

The All Blacks starting XV are:

1. Karl Tu’inukuafe (7)
2. Codie Taylor (36)
3. Ofa Tuungafasi (20)
4. Samuel Whitelock (103) – captain
5. Scott Barrett (23)
6. Shannon Frizell (3)
7. Sam Cane (58)
8. Luke Whitelock (6)
9. TJ Perenara (49)
10. Beauden Barrett (67)
11. Rieko Ioane (18)
12. Sonny Bill Williams (47)
13. Ryan Crotty (39)
14. Waisake Naholo (22)
15. Ben Smith (72)

Reserves: 16-Nathan Harris, 17-Tim Perry, 18-Angus Ta’avao, 19-Patrick Tuipulotu, 20-Ardie Savea, 21-Aaron Smith, 22-Richie Mo’unga, 23-Anton Lienert-Brown

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen said the team had recovered well this week in Buenos Aires after traveling from New Zealand and was preparing for what would be the first of two tough away games for the All Blacks. “We’ve picked what we believe is the best team for this particular Test match.

“Argentina is a very good side who have shown they can win both away and at home.  They’re full of confidence and self-belief which will make them a very dangerous beast,” he said in a media release.

Six changes made to All Blacks starting XV; McKenzie forced to return home

One key name missing will be Damian McKenzie. Sadly, he has had to return home to be with family, after the passing of his maternal grandmother. Sad for the individual, and as much for any potential Opportunity he could miss out on [before he returns to the traveling party in South Africa].

In his place on the bench now, is Richie Mo’unga. Fresh from his debut start wearing the All Blacks jersey in Nelson, his teammates removal, may be seen as one of the few Opportunities available, for him to shine. That experience in Nelson when facing the talented Nicolas Sanchez (see main photo) will give the Crusaders player a little more knowledge to rely on. Still not a conclusive base yet, the perceived Weakness of not having the ‘impact player’ is that…only perception.

Anton Lienert-Brown has not disappointed, and even if an injury were to remove Beauden Barrett, many feel that Mo’unga has plenty to offer the All Blacks backline. He has played fullback, and at a stretch, could play any position from 10-15 [if the contingency plan was required]. Taking opportunities; in the squad selection, in counter attacks out of the field, which is how this side can counter the emotion of Los Pumas.

And the key benefit here is, that the younger players like Mo’unga and starting prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi, learn the intense pressure here in The Rugby Championship – and not in the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup.

The experiences of two weeks prior will still be fresh…the stone under the beach towel. So Hansen and his coaching group must have reminded this squad of that result. While Argentina is still yet to earn a victory over New Zealand on the rugby field, their strength of character in 2018, means it is a tough challenge.

A strong, unbeaten record still exists for the New Zealand side. 2018 will add to that colourful history. And this Sunday may be the toughest ones in the long history of the All Blacks touring South America.

Each side must do their own SWOT analysis

Like any International team, preparation is key. So when back in May and June, when players from this group were removed from their Super Rugby sides for preparation camps, it all points to now. How will the learnings from one day sessions and three-day camps then, transfer to now? For the All Blacks, as much as for the Pumas.

Not in ‘game preparation’ but in how the squad gel. How missing a player like Brodie Retallick can be mended. The world-class lock is a huge hole to fill, so Scott Barrett will have gained much since those camps, and his repeated opportunities to start in test matches. Each of the All Blacks starting XV, and the important eight replacements can now utilize the mental and physical preparations best now.

And the returning Sonny Bill Williams will bring his own strengths to the side. More relaxed than a Kiwi in his burrow, the cool character was seen on the streets of Buenos Aires offering water to marathon runners last weekend. Little phases him, and being a two-time Rugby World Cup winner means that a young man like Richie Mo’unga will gain plenty by simple pairing with Sonny Bill in training.

And the main proponent of a player who is ‘cool under pressure’ is stand-in captain Sam Whitelock. With Kieran Read rested, Whitelock will play alongside his brother Luke, to mean that again there is a strong family tie inside the All Blacks starting XV. The Whitelocks, the Barretts and the Smiths….not quite brothers, but like every All Black, Aaron and Ben and ‘brothers in arms’.

That brotherhood is a strength. One that must overcome another huge challenge. Any weakness must be reduced, eliminated and left on the sidelines. The on-field leadership has to take all the opportunities afforded them. So as starting halfback TJ Perenara mentioned during the week, the 8/9/10 trio have to be up to speed.

The Hurricanes leader will play his 50th test, and is one player who will have performed much self-analysis. He is pragmatic and highly motivated, and alongside Beauden Barrett again, expect a highly energetic All Blacks side.

Argentina is a threat. They have beaten each of the other SANZAAR partners. Adding a Kiwi scalp would revitalize the fortunes of that side – so this All Blacks starting XV has to do everything in their power to not be added to ‘the list’. No more surprises, as the six changes aim to remedy to recent loss to South Africa.

Argentina v New Zealand – Jose Amalfitani Stadium, 7:40pm (ARG)


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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