Venue: Bankwest Stadium, Sydney (Australia)
Date: Saturday, November 14, 2020
Argentina doesn’t really have any form to speak of seeing as their last match was a 47-17 win over the USA back in their final pool game of the 2019 Rugby World Cup. That match was played over 13 months ago – though given how 2020 has gone it feels like another lifetime entirely – as the Pumas have been hit maybe the hardest of all the rugby playing nations by the ripple effects of Covid-19. Their problem is one of isolation, as while the other countries have at least being able to put together strong domestic competitions the Jaguares have been inactive against any level or quality competition. This makes Argentina a complete unknown entering the match.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has more or less been the center of the rugby world during Covid. Super Rugby Aotearoa was a resounding success at making their players and rivalries more well known. Their form coming into this is all from the four-Test Bledisloe Cup series, which they won with wins in Bledisloe II and Bledisloe III over Australia after the first match was drawn. Their defeat – 24-22 – in Bledisloe IV – albeit with a much-changed side – will make the All Blacks want to impress here.
The All Blacks have reacted to their surprising defeat at the hands of the Wallabies a week ago by ringing the changes and reverting to almost the same team that put Australia to the sword in record-breaking fashion a couple of weeks ago. That means that Richie Mo’unga returns to the side at fly-half, pushing Beauden Barrett back to fullback in a move that head coach Ian Foster hopes will give the team more ability to kick tactically and exploit space. Mo’unga – who had a sensational Super Rugby Aoteroa – has seemingly established himself as the first choice at pivot from this point forwards.
Other changes see the back row of Shannon Frizell, captain Same Sane, and the destructive and always fun to watch Ardie Savea. Aaron Smith returns at scrum-half – and given his distribution and speed of thought, he may be the most important player in the entire side – while Caleb Clarke and Jack Goodhue are also back in the backline. Ofa Tuungafasi will miss this contest after being banned for three weeks following his sending off at Suncorp.
It is hard to know what we are going to get from Argentina here given the personnel that they are without and the lack of rugby some of their players are coming into this with. The Pumas have been in Australia for over a month already – so there should be little trouble with players not knowing the systems – but their only games have been a couple of outings against Australia A. That is not exactly great preparation for their first dip into the Tri-Nations and it is the exact reason that South Africa have touted explaining their absence from either this version of The Rugby CHampiobsip or their long-shot rumours that had them playing in The Autumn Nations Cup event.
Youngster Santiago Chocobares will be making his Test debut for the Pumas in midfield, while Santiago Grondona and Lucio Cinti will also be donning the famed hoops for the first time when coming off of the bench.
New Zealand is always a house of fire coming off the back of a defeat and it doesn’t figure to be any different here. The point spread is a substantial 25.5 with BetXChange, but that seems like a number New Zealand will cover with some room to space given the difference in preparation – and therefore sharpness – between the two countries right now.