The World Cup is still a year away but it's already high on the All Blacks' agenda as they begin to put into practice their plan for the knockout stages in Japan.

Coach Steve Hansen said as much today – unprompted, too – after announcing a strong side to play Argentina at Estadio Jose Amalfitani on Sunday.

The strength of the line-up, with Beauden Barrett at No10, Sonny Bill Williams returning to second-five and Ben Smith moving back to fullback, isn't necessarily a response to the defeat by the Springboks in Wellington last time out, more the need to forge top-flight combinations over consecutive weeks, with Hansen confirming he will make few, if any unforced changes for their next test against South Africa at Loftus Versfeld a week on Sunday.

Of the All Blacks' top players in Buenos Aires, only tighthead prop Owen Franks and halfback Aaron Smith have been left out. Skipper and No8 Kieran Read didn't make the trip due to the continued management of his back condition and will travel directly to Pretoria along with utility back Damian McKenzie who has gone home due to a family bereavement.


Apart from halfback Smith, the All Blacks' backline has a very strong look, with Williams returning from a shoulder injury and tonsillitis to partner Ryan Crotty in the midfield and Waisake Naholo back on the right wing, with Ben Smith at fullback.

There is no room in the squad for fullback Jordie Barrett, who made a high-profile error in the defeat by South Africa in Wellington last time out. For the next fortnight, at least, the development of younger players is not a priority, although there will be a test debut off the reserves bench for former Blues prop Angus Ta'avao at the age of 28.

"We wanted to pick a strong side and we believe the back three players we've picked are what we're looking for," Hansen said of the selection of Ben Smith, Rieko Ioane and Naholo – the latter not selected for the defeat by the Boks.

"On top of that, we're doing a little practice for the future," he said. "We think if we're good enough to get through the round-robin at the World Cup and we want to advance deep into that tournament we need to play at least two big games in a row to get to the final.

"We see Argentina and South Africa giving us the opportunity to practice. One of the things we wouldn't be doing at the World Cup is making a lot of changes so we haven't made a lot this week."

Sonny Bill Williams is back for the All Blacks. Photo / Photosport
Sonny Bill Williams is back for the All Blacks. Photo / Photosport

Looking ahead to the November tour, the All Blacks will have the chance to do something similar on consecutive weeks against England at Twickenham and Ireland in Dublin.

Franks was seen as a hard-working 30-year-old due for a rest and the same applied for midfielder Jack Goodhue, who at 23 is at the other end of the test career spectrum. How quickly the talented Goodhue can win the No13 jersey back off Crotty will be a fascinating subplot next week and beyond.

For Williams, who had been named on the reserves bench a fortnight ago for the test at Westpac Stadium only to pull out with illness, the selection in the No12 jersey was relatively straightforward according to Hansen.


"It's a lot better to start a player who's coming back from injury," he said. "You've got two choices obviously but we think it's better for his preparation – he can prepare to play, he knows what he's going into and his shoulder… he hasn't had a lot of rugby."

The response this week on arrival in Buenos Aires has not surprisingly been positive after a week at home stewing on a rare defeat.

"All Black teams are well known for coming back reasonably strongly after a defeat," Hansen said. "They don't experience a lot of them, and particularly this group haven't, anyway.

"We had a really good session on Monday off the park. A lot of the lessons we learned were talked about. The week so far on the training park seems to be showing us we've gone up another gear and we'll need to because it's going to be a massive challenge. Argentina at home are a different beast to when they are away and they're proving to be pretty strong away. This game is going to be really good to see where we are at."

All Blacks team to play Argentina at Estadio Jose Amalfitani on Sunday at 11.40am, is:

15. Ben Smith
14. Waisake Naholo
13. Ryan Crotty
12. Sonny Bill Williams
11. Rieko Ioane
10. Beauden Barrett
9. TJ Perenara
8. Luke Whitelock
7. Sam Cane
6. Shannon Frizell
5. Scott Barrett
4. Sam Whitelock ©
3. Ofa Tuungafasi
2. Codie Taylor
1. Karl Tu'inukuafe

Reserves: Nathan Harris, Tim Perry, Angus Ta'avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo'unga, Anton Lienert-Brown.