The Rugby World Cup may be 12 months away, but coach Steve Hansen has already begun planning for the sudden-death phase of the tournament.
Following the 36-34 shock defeat to the Springboks in Wellington on September 15, All Blacks coach Hansen has made six personnel changes for the test against Argentina in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning.
This, he says, is all part of the masterplan to defend the Webb Ellis Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Hansen has elected to rest tighthead prop Owen Franks, which means Ofa Tuungafasi will start at Estadio Velez Sarsfield and Chiefs bookend Angus Ta’avao, who earlier this year was without a Super Rugby contract, will earn his first test cap off the bench.
Shannon Frizell gets a gallop at blindside flanker because Liam Squire has a hand injury, and with captain Kieran Read left at home – he will join the squad for the test against the Boks in Pretoria next weekend and Luke Whitelock is moved to No 8.
Halfback TJ Perenara starts his 50th test at halfback, pushing Aaron Smith into the reserves, Sonny Bill Williams will make his second test appearance of the year at second five-eighth and a reshuffle in the back three results in Jordie Barrett getting bumped out of the match day 23.
Ben Smith shifts to fullback, allowing Waisake Naholo to return to the right wing.
The availability of Williams, who injured a shoulder against France in Dunedin on June 23 and ahead of his comeback in Wellington was laid low with a bout of tonsillitis, means there is no room for Goodhue. Anton Lienert-Brown has been preferred on the bench.
Damian McKenzie has returned to New Zealand for a family bereavement, and will join the squad in South Africa.
Maybe Hansen could have been more ruthless with his selections after that disappointing effort against the Boks; instead he has cut his cloth where necessary, and then advanced to the front foot to say this is no time to be experimenting.
Halfback TJ Perenara will make his 50th test appearance against the Pumas in Buenos Aires.
“From a selection point of view, we’ve always seen these next two test matches as a great opportunity to replicate the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup, where we’ll have to beat quality teams back-to-back if we are to keep advancing in the tournament,” Hansen said in a statement.
“One of the keys to achieving this will be a consistency of selection, and that’s why we haven’t made too many changes this week.”
The global tournament in Japan is still a year away, but clearly Hansen wants to get a gauge on how his players react when told they must prepare, mentally and physically, as if they are playing one of the most important games of their lives.
If Hansen has to remind any of his players that Argentina, who have taken their attack into overdrive under new coach Mario Ledesma, will be a difficult opponent he will have reason to be disappointed.
Argentina’s record speaks for itself. Recent wins over the Wallabies and Springboks are proof that the Pumas, especially in front of their own supporters, don’t lack confidence.
“We have taken some key learnings from the loss to South Africa, which we look forward to implementing,” Hansen added.
Hansen won’t have lacked material when sifting through examples of errors in the Cake Tin. With Read unavailable, the responsibility shifts to Sam Whitelock and playmaker Beauden Barrett to keep a clean slate against the Pumas.
All Blacks: Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Ryan Crotty, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Beauden Barrett, TJ Perenara, Luke Whitelock, Sam Cane, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock (capt), Ofa Tuungafasi, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu’inukuafe. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Tim Perry, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu, Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo’unga, Anton Lienert-Brown.