Hansen: All Blacks need a big win against Pumas

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says that Friday’s Rugby Championship Test Argentina in Christchurch is a “must win” match and dismissed talk that the New Zealanders are more focused on the Rugby World Cup.

Hansen’s All Blacks delivered a sluggish performance against Samoa last week in Apia and although they won the match it was their lowest winning margin at 16-25 against the island nation.

The All Black coach has called for an immediate improvement from the players and he has made six changes to the side for the tournament opener.

“If you don’t play well in a Test match it hurts. We didn’t play well in our last one so it’s been reasonably hurtful and this is our first opportunity to fix it,” he said after naming the side on Wednesday.

Hansen has stuck largely with his regular players and included just four of 17 All Blacks squad members in the Highlanders and Hurricanes who played in the Super Rugby final two weeks ago.

Highlanders winger Waisake Naholo, the top try-scorer in Super rugby this year, will make his Test debut alongside Hurricanes backs TJ Perenara and Ma’a Nonu with Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush in the reserves.

The other changes see Codie Taylor named as the replacement hooker and loose forward Liam Messam is also added to the bench.

Notable absentees include the three Smiths – the Highlanders’ Ben and Aaron, and the Hurricanes’ Conrad – but Hansen said the selectors “certainly haven’t compromised on the quality of the team”.

“There has been a lot of talk about the Rugby World Cup and so forth, but this Test match is all about the here and now.

“It’s important that we get away to a really good start in the Rugby Championship… We will need to get points early if we are going to give ourselves a chance of winning the Championship.”

Hansen said some players needed to be rested after an exhausting Super rugby season while others need more game time to prove themselves, singling out fullback Israel Dagg who has been injured for much of the year.

“It’s a big ask to be able to come back from no rugby and play Test rugby but we have no other options if we want to get him back into the level of performance he can produce. We’ve got to play him.”

Hansen has experimented with his backline combinations, pairing Nonu outside Sonny Bill Williams, reversing the roles from the last three times they have played together.

The one change in the starting forward pack sees current world player of the year Brodie Retallick replacing lock Sam Whitelock.

The All Blacks have won 19 and drawn one of their 20 previous Tests against Argentina and after Friday’s match the teams will meet again on September 20 at London’s Wembley Stadium in their opening World Cup match.

Teams

New Zealand

1. Tony Woodcock , 2. Keven Mealamu , 3. Owen Franks , 4. Luke Romano , 5. Brodie Retallick , 6. Jerome Kaino , 7. Richie McCaw (c) , 8. Kieran Read , 9. TJ Perenara , 10. Daniel Carter , 11. Charles Piutau , 12. Sonny Bill Williams , 13. Ma’a Nonu , 14. Waisake Naholo , 15. Israel Dagg

Replacements:16. Codie Taylor , 17. Wyatt Crockett , 18. Nepo Laulala , 19. Jeremy Thrush , 20. Liam Messam , 21. Andy Ellis , 22. Colin Slade , 23. Ryan Crotty

Argentina

Joaquin Tuculet, Horacio Agulla, Marcelo Bosch, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Santiago Cordero; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli, Facundo Isa, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamon; Guido Petti Pagadizabal, Manuel Carizza; Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (captain), Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Benjamin Macome, Javier Ortega Desio, Martin Landajo, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.

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