Wynne Gray 's Opinion

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Absent All Blacks no great problem

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Argentina have not won a Rugby Championship test and were belted 54-15 at home last year by the All Blacks.

These are irrefutable facts for a sport which does its best to make primates out of those who make claims about deeds or statistics.

With that risk gnawing at my lack of mathematical skill, the All Blacks seem to be heading into their next test with the Pumas at La Plata without a considerable chunk of experience.

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By my abacus, the All Blacks will shed about 40 per cent experience from the side which started at the same venue last season. That is a serious wedge of rugby knowledge but it would be hard to find many who think the Pumas will record a famous upset this Sunday.

Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Cory Jane, Luke Romano all ran out last year but are sidelined and may also be joined by last year's hooker Andrew Hore. That is a collective shortfall of 353 caps.

If Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith, Brodie Retallick and Dane Coles are the replacements, they have 78 caps between them.

They are all on their way as international players. Smith, Cruden and Retallick have shown enough ability to firm as key members for the 2015 World Cup, Cane is moving in that direction and Coles working hard to deliver the same conviction.

Even without the twin amulets of McCaw and Carter, the All Blacks have layers of experience and enough skill to deal with the Pumas.

Tony Woodcock, Owen Franks, Kieran Read, Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith have all gone past 50 caps and should Coles start, he will be the only player not to have moved into double figures.

Injuries will force most of the changes for La Plata but the selectors, led by the vision of Steve Hansen, have not been bound by convention. They have settled on a template which has introduced Aaron Smith, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Cane, Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Coles to the progressive All Black system.

That gallery has grown this season with Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Matt Todd, Steven Luatua, Jeremy Thrush and Ben Afeaki getting their entree of test rugby. More may come on the end-of-year tour for others like Jeff Toomaga-Allen or Dominic Bird.

That is the future but strands of that vision should poke through the performance on Sunday about 90 minutes' drive south of Buenos Aires.

- NZ Herald

Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

NZ Herald senior rugby writer Wynne Gray has been covering the All Blacks for almost 25 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

Read more by Wynne Gray

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