Unknown elements add spice to New Plymouth Test

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Lynn McConnell     08 Sep 2017     Getty Images

A true measure of where Argentina is at this year has not been possible without the usual Super Rugby contact against the Jaguares while their Test matches against England B were played against the backdrop of the British & Irish Lions tour of New Zealand.

And their two Tests with South Africa were harder to assess not having played either side to date this year.

The All Blacks selectors have added to the mixture of the unknown with their selection for the Test with so many changes from the most recent Bledisloe Cup Test against Australia.

The return of World Cup-winning wing Nehe Milner-Skudder was one point of interest while the elevation of blindside flanker Vaea Fifita to a Test start was another.

Milner-Skudder said his injury-plagued years since the 2015 Rugby World Cup had been frustrating but he was proud to be back in the size and was 'fizzing' to get back into Test rugby.

Partnered with Israel Dagg and Damian McKenzie in the back three, he said they weren't the biggest back three in the world game so they would look to play to their strengths and be smart in their approach and to run when the time was right.

First five-eighths Beauden Barrett said his Hurricanes team-mate Fifita had been excited since being told he would have a starting role in the Test and he was looking forward to seeing how he goes because everyone knew how good he was with the ball in hand.

Fellow Hurricane Ardie Savea said Fifita had a huge work ethic and a willingness to learn. 

"He's a quiet, humble man but he's always asking questions and always wanting to improve and when he goes out onto the field he does some freakish stuff so it is an awesome opportunity for him to start this week and showcase his talents," he said.

Savea said it was a good feeling having played with Fifita through the ranks and having the chance to start together in New Plymouth.

Barrett said he had been keeping an eye on Argentina in their games against South Africa and noted they had been playing some good rugby.

"They're a top quality side, they bring plenty of physicality, plenty of skill, a strong off-loading game so we're expecting a strong team on Saturday," he said.

"We have a fair idea of what they are going to bring on Saturday but we can only assume and just wait and see

At the same time the All Blacks hadn't been happy with their play in the early stages against Australia and wanted to improve their core roles and skill execution.

"We can't go into a hole with our attacking game when we make two defensive errors. It's about expressing ourselves and identifying that on the field and not having to shut up shop. We're encouraged to keep playing footy and identify what exactly is going wrong," he said.

Barrett had extra challenges to cope with in being back on home turf. It will be the second Test Barrett has played in New Plymouth but he was concentrating on getting his preparation right and having the necessary balance.

"You have to fend a few people off. I would like to see everyone in the 'naki, friends and family come first and whilst it's great and I get a lot of energy off the people here, they're great supporters, I have to focus on playing a bit of footy too," he said.

Prop Joe Moody said that while Argentina had enjoyed a fearsome scrummaging reputation earlier there wasn't the same high level of consistency so the All Blacks needed to be switched on for every scrum.

While the South Americans had to endure a tough travel schedule, as coach Steve Hansen referred to in his Thursday press conference, Moody felt that the Pumas would have recovered in plenty of time having arrived in New Zealand last weekend.

As for the extra travel Moody had been through with having to make a trip to South Africa for the Investec Super Rugby final, he said he was feeling fine, especially after having a week off before rejoining the All Blacks camp.