New Zealand’s dress rehearsal for its anticipated clash with world champion South Africa will take place without most of its stars in the second Rugby Championship test against Argentina on Saturday at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium,
The All Blacks and Springboks will meet in a test for the 100th time in a 25,000-seat stadium at Townsville in northern Queensland state next weekend. Saturday’s Brisbane match against the Pumas is New Zealand’s last before the clash with South Africa and head coach Ian Foster has approached it by resting most of his leading players.
Foster has named a team with 11 changes among the starting 15 from the one which beat Argentina 39-0 in the first match between the teams last weekend. His swingeing changes include an all-new forward pack and, for the third time in as many matches, a change of captaincy.
To an extent, Foster is flexing his muscles, showing off the All Blacks’ depth. With every significant combination on the field altered, he still has done nothing that could be called radical.
He has handed Damian McKenzie the No. 10 jersey for the second time in his career and the first in four years, stationing Beauden Barrett on the bench as Barrett nurses a minor calf muscle twinge. Foster’s predecessor, Steve Hansen, saw McKenzie as a viable, long-term prospect at flyhalf and though his project to make him one was unavailing, he still is comfortable and competent in the role.
The midfield partnership is new, both wingers are changed from last week ago and only scrumhalf T.J. Perenara, fullback Jordie Barrett and center Rieko Ioane return. But the backline is likely to be no less polished or potent. Will Jordan on the right wing has scored 11 tries in only seven tests for New Zealand and Quinn Tupaea at inside center is full of promise.
Ardie Savea will captain the team again after doing so for the first time in New Zealand’s win over Australia in Perth two weeks ago. He sustained a minor head injury in that match and relinquished the leadership last week to another first-time captain, lock Brodie Retallick.
Savea joins a backrow which includes the powerful No. 8 Hokins Sotutu and talented Ethan Blackadder. Joe Moody also returns from injury to take up his regular place at loosehead prop, starting for the first time this season after recovering from foot surgery.
“When you look at the changes, with some of the injured boys coming into the mix, I think it is a positive for us,” said Foster who has to manage workloads as the All Blacks face five test matches in as many weekends.
“It’s always the great balancing act. You don’t want to run out of steam in the last couple of test matches in a five-test block. And making sure that we have got the energy to be explosive out on the park in all five test matches. I guess it is the art of selection.”
Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has followed suit, making six personnel and two positional changes to his lineup, also naming a new flyhalf.
“Some changes are mandatory and others are combinations of players that we wanted to see,” Ledesma said. “We have to find the balance between testing players and taking the game plan we want to the field.”
The Pumas are uniquely hard-working and well-traveled among world rugby’s top-tier nations and Ledesma weekly faces the risk of burnout. The All Blacks can avoid over-work this weekend to ensure their stars are fresh for the clash with the Springboks which might decide the Rugby Championship.
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