Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Ryan Crotty returns for Argentina clash

Ryan Crotty returns in the 12 jersey on Saturday night against Argentina. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Ryan Crotty returns in the 12 jersey on Saturday night against Argentina. Photo / Brett Phibbs

It's a little cruel to brand the Bledisloe series a phoney war, but nonetheless, the business of playing proper test football will start for the All Blacks on Saturday.

That's largely why the All Blacks have resisted whatever temptation there may have been to change a few combinations to expand their future selection options. They can find things out about peripheral squad members later in the year, probably in Europe.

For now, the key objective is to see whether they can play their high tempo continuity game against opponents who will ask different, and in truth, more difficult questions.
That's why there is just one change to the starting XV - Ryan Crotty coming back in at second-five after being cleared from his head knock.

The bench has a re-fit - Codie Taylor replacing James Parsons, Luke Romano coming in for Liam Squire and Anton Leinert-Brown slipping in for Seta Tamanivalu.

Hidden in their selection thinking are two messages. One is that the coaches feel there is, despite the promising start, ample room for growth and development.

Second, is a sense that without wishing to demean the Wallabies, they could be the weakest team in the Rugby Championship.

The test in Hamilton will be relentlessly physical and at times brutal in a way the games against Australia never were and that's the point in all of this - can the All Blacks play high tempo, continuity rugby against sides that are purpose-built to prevent that from happening?

"In selecting this team, we felt there was the need for consistency," says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

"The squad is five games into re-establishing themselves on the international stage and we felt that it would not be right to make a lot of changes."

The Pumas can't match the Wallabies in regard to world-class players, but they do pose significantly more attacking threats on account of their greater physical offering.

Their scrum, based on the way it performed against the Springboks last week, remains one of the best and most powerful in the world game.

Their lineout is far from the shambolic mess that Australia produced and not only can they win usable ball off the top, they can set one of the more dynamic and difficult to stop driving mauls.

They defend with a touch of cunning and venom. No8 Facundo Isa showed how much with his last minute destruction of Springbok lock Pieter-Steph du Toit.

And in the collision areas around the tackled ball, they are persistently cussed in the way they are able to put bodies in places that make it hard for teams to win quick ruck ball.
The Wallabies didn't seem to have that capacity to dominate the All Blacks physically but the Pumas do.

They will also force the All Blacks to reconsider the risk-reward equation when it comes to lineouts. Against the Wallabies, the All Blacks were happy to challenge virtually every Australian throw.

They were able to steal a total of eight lineouts across the series and prevent the Wallabies from launching any memorable lineout drives or effective backs moves.

The All Blacks appear to be on the right track but judging just how far down it they are will have to wait until they have encountered first the Pumas and then the Springboks.

The matchday 23 is (with Test caps in brackets):
1. Joe Moody (15)
2. Dane Coles (41)
3. Owen Franks (82)
4. Brodie Retallick (52)
5. Samuel Whitelock (77)
6. Jerome Kaino (71)
7. Sam Cane (36)
8. Kieran Read - captain (89)
9. Aaron Smith (52)
10. Beauden Barrett (41)
11. Julian Savea (45)
12. Ryan Crotty (19)
13. Malakai Fekitoa (17)
14. Israel Dagg (53)
15. Ben Smith (53)
16. Codie Taylor (5)
17. Wyatt Crockett (50)
18. Charlie Faumuina (38)
19. Luke Romano (24)
20. Ardie Savea (4)
21. TJ Perenara (21)
22. Aaron Cruden (41)
23. Anton Lienert-Brown (1)

- NZ Herald

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