Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: All Blacks changes likely minimal for Pumas opener

Will we see Ryan Crotty back starting in the All Blacks midfield this weekend? Photo / Brett Phibbs
Will we see Ryan Crotty back starting in the All Blacks midfield this weekend? Photo / Brett Phibbs

With the All Blacks machine shifting towards top gear, the selectors are veering towards continuity of personnel this week.

The desire to refine and improve from an impressive opening two games is greater than the desire to find out more about fringe candidates.

To that end, the likelihood is that there will be minimal changes to the starting line-up with perhaps just a bit of tinkering on the bench to reflect the different threat the Pumas pose to the Wallabies.

As far as the starting XV goes, it could be there is only one change - the now recovered Ryan Crotty resuming at second-five in place of Anton Lienert-Brown.

Crotty played one of his best 40 minutes in the opening test in Sydney before he came off following a head knock. He was also one of the most consistent and accurate performers throughout June and is growing into a potent and dynamic force.

If he'd been fit, he'd have started in Wellington and as well as Lienert-Brown played in the capital, Crotty was always destined to return once he was cleared.

Elsewhere, it will be difficult for other changes to be justified in the wake of two encouraging and commanding performances against the Wallabies that were built on the the collective cohesion and fluidity.

"There's always selection dilemmas," said All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster.

"We have got a pretty fit squad at the moment and we have got a number of guys who haven't been in a starting position who are chomping at the bit so there is plenty for us to think about.

"The big factor for us is how we continue to keep growing our game and what the best group of players is for us to have a bit of continuity against a little bit of freshness. So it is one of those balancing things.

"You are looking at the road ahead but I guess right now we are in a good state. We are at home, we don't have a lot of travel and we are fresh. It is also a good stage for us to make sure we keep cementing the way we are playing.

"So I think continuity is more of the way forward for us initially but again within that there is always going to be room for a couple of tweaks."

The tweaks are more likely to be around the make up of the bench. Codie Taylor, another who missed the Wellington test due to a head knock, has been cleared to play and will presumably return to the bench in place of James Parsons.

The greater physical capacity of Argentina may swing the decision to run with a specialist lock cover on the bench for the first time this year in the Rugby Championship.

One of the toughest parts of playing the Pumas is generating quick ball and shifting, big, powerful men off the ball. The All Blacks haven't found that easy in the past and often it takes 65 minutes to 70 minutes to break the Pumas resistance in that area.

The hulking form of Patrick Tuipulotu may then come on to the bench in place of one of the two loose forwards who were used against Australia.

The final change may be with the choice of outside back reserve. Seta Tamanivalu was used in that role last time out and while he played well when he came on, the option would be there to reward Lienert-Brown, who can play both midfield positions, with another opportunity.

- NZ Herald

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