Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

All Blacks: Hansen backs Carter to re-assert himself

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen acknowledges Dan Carter is under pressure to perform on Saturday following a limited diet of test rugby and a chasing pack of first-fives, but is backing him to re-assert himself on the big stage.

Carter has played only one test since December due to a host of injuries including a broken hand and strained calf. In that time Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett have developed further, with Tom Taylor also handling his test debut a fortnight ago against Australia with aplomb.

Carter's last test was against France in New Plymouth, a match in which he wasn't happy with his performance. The test against the Pumas at Waikato Stadium will be his 96th and that experience will be ideal for Francis Saili on debut outside him, Hansen said.

The coach added Carter came into the French test in June as the All Blacks were developing a new game plan which didn't help.

"He needs a decent run of games and the next time we play in Wellington I think we'll leave him at home ... every time he goes there he seems to get injured.

"It's interesting isn't it, we've gone from having the best first five-eighth in the history of the game, or certainly the best first-five in rugby [at the moment], to probably the second best in Cruds, 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-eighth 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.''

Saili said he couldn't think of two better players to help him through his debut in Carter and Conrad Smith, adding his dad became emotional when he told him he would make his test debut.

"He's not usually an emotional fella ... He had a tear coming down, I couldn't see it but I could hear it through the phone,'' he said.

"It will be the biggest game of my life.''

Hansen said of Carter's and Smith's experience around the 22-year-old Saili: ``I think it's huge. One guy's on 96 or 97 games and the other is on 80-something. For Francis it's the perfect scenario. We've got a couple of old heads just keeping him calm and he's getting them excited.

"We're comfortable that he understands what it takes at test level, rather than Super Rugby. He's got an exciting future.''

Hansen added of the Argentines' reputation for going beyond the laws of the game following the eye-gauging and biting citings against South Africa in Mendoza recently: "There's been a lot said about their last test. But they were playing South Africa so they would have been giving as much as they were giving. It's always a physical game and it will be physical on Saturday.

"We're not playing tiddlywinks so every now and then people probably do things they don't want to do. In the heat of the battle it happens. I don't think they're a dirty team. That's what everyone is trying to imply. I don't think they are, I think they're a good team, they're growing into this competition.''

All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Francis Saili, Julian Savea, Dan Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Steven Luatua, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.

Argentina: J M Hernandez, Gonsalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, S Fernandez, Horacio Agulla, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo, J M Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, J M F Lobbe (c), J F Cabello, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guiazu, Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Benjamin Macome, Tomas Cubelli, Felipe Contepomi.

- APNZ

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