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Rugby Championship – Round 3 Preview

Argentina face what is probably their toughest assignment in their short Rugby Championship history, as they travel to Wellington to play the All Blacks on Saturday.

The Pumas showed excellent determination in a powerful display against South Africa in Mendoza last time out, earning a momentous draw. The All Blacks in New Zealand are an altogether different animal though.

Despite beating Australia 22-0, and the score could quite easily have been double that, the All Blacks have made 6 changes, after coach Steve Hansen said his side were not clinical enough, making poor decisions under pressure..

It is a sign of the quality of the World Champions’ squad that they actually look stronger on paper now, with the possible exception of the inclusion of Cruden in place of the injured Carter. Those who watched this season’s Super 15 may however think that this too is an improvement on current form.

Argentina will feel that they too have strengthened, bringing the veteran flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon back into the side, while their genius playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez steps back into the 10 shirt.

One sorry sight for rugby fans around the world will be the absence of Sonny Bill Williams from the All Blacks side following his move to Japan. In his short spell in an All Blacks shirt he has certainly made an impact and his loss will be felt by players and fans alike.

Returning in his place though after spending time on the sidelines with a fractured eye socket is Conrad Smith, the man described by many as the ‘brains of the All Black’s backline’.  A canny operator, Smith will help lead the All Blacks defence and will be calling plenty of shots in attack.

The other game this weekend sees South Africa travel to Australia. The Springboks are sure to be fired up for this one after receiving a fair amount of flack following their draw with Argentina.

They have made five changes to their starting line up from that game, including handing a first cap to Duane Vermeulen at number eight as they continue their carousel of players at the base of the scrum in the absence of Pierre Spies.

It seems likely that the ‘Boks are intending to step further into the tactics they are most comfortable with (i.e a strong kick/chase game) as they switch Francois Hougaard to the wing bringing in Ruan Piennar at scrum half due to his ‘more tactical approach’ according to coach Heyneke Meyer.

Australia meanwhile are in desperate need to salvage some pride after their comprehensive defeat to the All Blacks.

They too have shuffled their cards, reorganising their backline following the injury to Drew Mitchell. Dom Shipperley is handed his debut on the wing, while Kurtley Beale returns at full-back as Adam Ashley-Cooper moves to 13.

Beale has been a shadow of his usual self recently, and the Wallabies will desperately be hoping for a return to form from him as they seek to inject the spark that has been missing from their backline. Quade Cooper’s slow return to form after injury has not helped either, but he is slowly coming back to his best.

All in all we should be in for an interesting weekend, the All Blacks are firm favorites to extend their lead in the Championship, but Argentina are no pushovers and will not make it easy for them.

Australia v South Africa is a closer contest and much will depend on whether the South African pack can dominate or the Australian backline can find their brilliance. They are two interestingly matched sides; their strengths and weaknesses are almost in direct contrast to one another, though the loss of David Pocock could be telling in this fixture.

Teams:

New Zealand: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (capt), 6 Victor Vito, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Dominic Shipperley, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Berrick Barnes, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (capt), 8 Radike Samo, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Benn Robinson.

South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Francois Hougaard 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.

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