All Blacks have plenty of fresh bodies to bring in for Pumas rematch
The All Blacks are two games into their intense five-week finish to the Rugby Championship, with the toughest challenge still to come.
The Wallabies may have gotten the better of the Springboks on the Gold Coast, but it’s the South African’s who inevitably pose the biggest risk to NZ – and after their loss over the weekend, they’ll bounce back over the coming three weeks in order to lay down a marker and reassert themselves as world champions.
As such, Ian Foster will likely roll out close to his top side over the All Blacks’ final two games of the competition, which means this weekend’s rematch against Argentina looms as the final opportunity to give players a rest ahead of the back-to-back clashes with the Boks.
Foster will be conscious, however, that he needs to maintain some continuity moving forward. After locking up the Bledisloe Cup in game three last year, the All Blacks made 10 personnel or positional changes to the starting lineup for their final game against the Wallabies, and eventually succumbed 24-22. They reverted primarily to their top team against Argentina and were shell-shocked by Los Pumas, going down 25-15 in a historic loss.
What kind of line-up, then, will the All Blacks selectors opt for ahead of this weekend’s battle with the Pumas?
Foster suggested ahead of the first game that he doesn’t expect any All Blacks to play all five matches in Australia.
Beauden Barrett is currently the only ‘specialist’ No 10 in the squad and although Richie Mo’unga is likely to be ready to play in the final game of the competition, the selectors may choose to rest Barrett this Saturday and hand Damian McKenzie a start at first five. That ensures Barrett will be ready to face the Springboks on consecutive weekends, should it be necessary.
How the selectors juggle the halfbacks will also be interesting, with the unused Finlay Christie likely to make two appearances in the coming three matches.
Anton Lienert-Brown’s minor injury, which forced him out of the win over Argentina, should mean he starts the remaining matches of the Championship and could partner his Chiefs midfield teammate, Quinn Tupaea, this weekend.
With McKenzie at 10, Jordie Barrett will likely get another run at fullback – although Will Jordan is another option there. If Jordan starts on the right wing, then Sevu Reece or Rieko Ioane could wear the No 11 jersey, with Braydon Ennor a possibility to come off the bench and earn his first test cap since the early stages of 2019.
It’s dangerous to draw too many conclusions after a handful of tests this year, but there were glimpses during the two back-to-back tests on the Gold Coast that a changing of the guard may be coming. #NZLvARG #RSAvAUS #AllBlacks
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) September 13, 2021
In the forwards, hooker Codie Taylor will make a return – likely in the starting role, where he’ll play out the rest of the tournament. With eight props in the squad, it would be easy for the selectors to rotate their front row entirely, but the need to get Joe Moody and Ofa Tuungafasi back up to speed could see that combo retained for the next three matches. Ethan de Groot is fit again – but will Foster and co be confident handing the 23-year-old a spot in the match-day side, when Moody is still not fully up to speed?
Brodie Retallick is due a rest, having started the last four matches for the All Blacks, and Patrick Tuipulotu could make his return from injury on Saturday in Retallick’s place – although Tupou Vaa’i is also due a start.
Finally, there are plenty of options in the loose forwards.
Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii will both need a break in the next three weeks but with Luke Jacobson and Ardie Savea already sitting out a match apiece, and Ethan Blackadder also available, the selectors shouldn’t struggle to find top-notch combos over the coming matches. There’s also Hoskins Sotutu lying in wait, who’s managed just a solitary appearance against Fiji in 2021.
Possible All Blacks line-up for second Pumas test:
Jordie Barrett, Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Quinn Tupaea, Sevu Reece, Damian McKenzie, TJ Perenara, Hoskins Sotutu, Ardie Savea (c), Ethan Blackadder, Tupou Vaa’i, Scott Barrett, Angus Ta’avao, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reserves: Asafo Aumua, Joe Moody, Ofa Tuungafasi, Patrick Tuipulotu, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Braydon Ennor, George Bridge.
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