Pumas v All Blacks – Championship 2012, Round 5

Argentinian coach Santiago Phelan named the same starting side as that which narrowly lost to Australia on the Gold Coast a fortnight ago as they prepare to host the World Champion All Blacks in La Plata this weekend.

Looking to beat the All Blacks for the first time in their history, the Pumas will again rely on their passion and commitment in defence, with an emphasis being placed on the final quarter, a period of the match where they have let themselves down in so far in the Rugby Championship.

Coach Steve Hansen has, predictably, rushed star first-five Dan Carter straight back in to black jersey, where he will be joined by Aaron Smith in the halves. Sam Whitelock finds himself on the bench, with selectors opting for the young, robust pairing of Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick, no doubt in anticipation of the fierce physical contest Argentina will be looking to create.

One big surprise in the New Zealand forward pack is at blindside flanker. While it looked as though impressive performances in recent weeks had secured Liam Messam’s status as first-choice number 6 he finds himself warming the bench this week, with Hurricanes flanker Victor Vito getting the nod. Fellow Wellingtonian Julian Savea earns another test cap on the wing, with Hosea Gear missing the 22 again, despite showing solid form when given opportunities earlier in the year.

It will undoubtedly be a hostile environment for the All Blacks this weekend, with a parochial home crowd looking for the Pumas to go one step better than their 16-all draw against the Springboks in the second round of the Championship. But I don’t think there is any chance that the All Blacks will underestimate the rapidly improving South Americans, and while I think the Pumas will one day beat the AB’s, I don’t think that day will be this weekend. All Blacks to win, by 10.

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