All Blacks expect physical Pumas challenge
HAMILTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has leapt to the defense of Argentina, saying they are not a dirty team and he expects a hard but fair contest when the teams meet in a Rugby Championships test on Saturday.
New Zealand will attempt to extend its record of 15 wins and one draw in tests against the Pumas, and to continue its unbeaten start to this season’s Championships, in the third round clash at Hamilton’s Waikato Stadium.
Argentina will go into Saturday’s match without backrower Leonardo Senatore who has been banned for nine weeks as a result of an incident during last weekend’s loss to South Africa in Mendoza. Flanker Pablo Matera was cited for eye gouging in the same match but was exonerated.
Hansen said while unacceptable incidents often occurred “in the heat of battle...I don’t see them as being a dirty team.”
At the beginning of the week backrower Kieran Read issued what might have been interpreted as a warning to Argentina that the All Blacks won’t be intimidated.
“You’ve got to play clean and fair,” Read said. “What they do will dictate I guess a little bit on our response but we’re going to stay as clean as we can. And there’s ways that you can dominate without being cheap and nasty.”
The All Blacks are 2 for 2 in this season’s Championships after beating Australia comfortably at home and away. They managed those victories in the absence of regular playmaker Dan Carter, who returns on Saturday from a calf injury.
Aaron Cruden took Carter’s place in Sydney but also succumbed to injury, as did his replacement Beauden Barrett who returns to the bench. With three flyhalves out of action, Tom Taylor made his debut against the Wallabies at Wellington and was also injured.
The heavy injury toll of New Zealand No. 10s has at least displayed New Zealand’s depth in that position.
“We’ve gone from having the best first five-eighths in the history of the game (Carter), or certainly the best first-five in rugby (at the moment), to probably the second best in Cruden, who has really developed and taken the bull by the horns.
“Beauden is developing nicely. Tom Taylor’s performance on Saturday was nothing short of miraculous, coming in as a fourth five-eighths with his confidence, so that creates depth but also pressure.
“It will be interesting how Dan reacts to that. You don’t want him looking over his shoulder, you want him looking forward and trying improve his own game rather than being pressured by it. I’m sure he will, he’s had a few challenges in his time.”
The Pumas have been strengthened by the return from injury of captain Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, who replaces Senatore, and of Juan Martin Hernandez at fullback.
“We’re in good shape,” coach Santiago Phelan said. “We’re working hard and giving a lot of effort, and are working with a lot of enthusiasm this week knowing we’re going to play the best team in the world and we need 100 per cent from everybody.
“We got better in performance and in attitude (in Mendoza) and we hope to continue that improvement this week knowing we’re going to play an excellent team.”