5 changes to NZ starting lineup to meet Argentina
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand has been forced into five changes for Saturday’s Rugby Championships test against Argentina due to a combination of disciplinary issues, injuries and an imminent birth.
Beauden Barrett will start a test at flyhalf for the second time in the absence of Aaron Cruden, who has been suspended for two matches for missing the flight to Argentina after a late-night drinking session.
Malakai Fekitoa will play his fifth test, but his first at inside center, in place of Ma’a Nonu who suffered a broken arm against South Africa.
Keven Mealamu will start his 118th test at hooker, replacing Dane Coles who has returned to New Zealand for the birth of his first child. Sam Whitelock, at lock, and Jerome Kaino, at blindside flanker, both return from injury.
The changes have disrupted preparations for Saturday’s test in La Plata in which the All Blacks will try to continue their unbeaten record against Argentina and in the Rugby Championships, which is in its third season.
The backline was already disrupted by the loss of Nonu and the need to move Fekitoa into a role in which he hasn’t previously played.
Coles was expected to be available for the Argentina test but not for the following weekend’s clash with South Africa in Johannesburg in the final Championships round. But he was forced to quit the team on Thursday when the birth seemed imminent, allowing Mealamu to make his first start this season.
Uncapped hooker Nathan Harris has been named on the reserves bench.
“Nathan has been developing very well,” head coach Steve Hansen said. “It’s well known that we don’t have a lot of depth in this position but we feel that Nathan is ready and capable of doing a very good job.”
New Zealand beat Argentina 28-9 when the teams met in New Zealand in the third round of this season’s tournament.
“To beat the Argentines will require that of us as they have been playing very well and have improved a lot since last year,” Hansen said.
“With this being only their second home game in the Championship, there will be huge expectation on them to win.”
New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Jerome Kaino, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Nathan Harris, Joe Moody, Ben Franks, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Colin Slade, Cory Jane.