MATCH DETAILS: All Blacks v Argentina, Saturday 28 November, 9.45pm NZT, McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle
Won: All Blacks 28, Argentina 1, Drawn 1
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
While the length of the season is no different than usual, it is what has happened in between that has been unprecedented, and has left the All Blacks looking to avoid three consecutive losses, something that hasn't happened since 1998.
Covid-19 threw a spanner into the usual machinations of the world and while New Zealand's players have enjoyed more time playing rugby than many of their opponents, they have also played some of the toughest rugby imaginable, especially during the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa season.
Knowing they can finish the season with the prize of a Tri Nations title to go alongside their defence of the Bledisloe Cup should be a motivation to deny Argentina in Newcastle.
Pressure may be on the All Blacks as a result of their losses to Australia and Argentina in the previous two rounds. However, there is also pressure on Argentina to advance on their historic first win over the New Zealanders. Not having played any rugby, and now facing their third game on consecutive weekends, they will be feeling the physical pinch. Coach Mario Ledesma has signalled that by making ten changes to the side that played Australia at the weekend. With the scent of home in their nostrils and a chance last weekend to freshen up, they have everything to play for as they seek to finish the season on a high note and to seal another Tri Nations title.
Team unity vital
Argentina's replacement prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro summed up the attitude Argentina will be taking into the Test. He said: "I think we have to be consistent for 80 minutes, to be strong in the forwards. The defence is going to be fundamental because they are going to want us to play from all sides, and that is why we have to be reconnected, so that does not happen to us. We have to be able to stand there and then generate our play. Each one of us is clear about our role, in each movement, in each scrum, in each lineout. That is going to be essential for us and will ensure we work well together." Lock Lucas Paulos will be making his Test debut for the side. Returning to start at No8 after an injury is Facundo Isa. Also recalled are experienced backs, second five-eighths Jeronimo de la Fuente and outside backs Santiago Cordero, Ramiro Moyano and Emiliano Boffelli.
New Zealand will go into the Test having beaten more defenders (20) and with an offload average of 6-7 per game to head the tournament averages. They also have the best lineout success rate of 91.7 per cent. They have also scored six tries, starting from lineouts, three more than Australia or Argentina combined. Captain Sam Cane has hit more attacking rucks (65) than any other player. Argentina goes into the game with the most effective tackling record in the Tri Nations at 89.6 per cent. They have a 100 per cent record with their scrums while lock Guido Petti has stolen the most lineouts with three. Flanker Marcos Kremer has made 42 tackles, one behind Australian captain and flanker Michael Hooper, who has played one game more. All Blacks prop Joe Moody will play his 50th Test. Beauden Barrett goes into the Test with 36 Test tries, one short of joining Jonah Lomu in seventh place on the all-time All Blacks list. He is third on the overall points scoring list with 649 points having edged ahead of Grant Fox on 645.
1.Mayco Vivas, 2.Julián Montoya, 3.Santiago Medrano, 4.Guido Petti, 5. Lucas Paulos, 6.Pablo Matera (captain), 7.Marcos Kremer, 8.Facundo Isa, 9.Felipe Ezcurra, 10.Nicolás Sánchez, 11.Santiago Cordero, 12.Jerónimo de la Fuente, 13.Juan Cruz Mallía, 14.Ramiro Moyano, 15.Emiliano Boffelli.
Substitutes: 16.Santiago Socino, 17.Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18.Lucio Sordoni, 19.Matías Alemanno, 20.Santiago Grondona, 21.Gonzalo Bertranou, 22.Santiago Carreras, 23.Lucas Mensa.
1.Joe Moody, 2.Dane Coles, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Samuel Whitelock, 6.Akira Ioane, 7.Sam Cane (captain), 8.Ardie Savea, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.Caleb Clarke, 12.Jack Goodhue, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Jordie Barrett, 15.Beauden Barrett.
Substitutes: 16.Codie Taylor, 17.Karl Tu'inukuafe, 18.Tyrel Lomax, 19.Patrick Tuipulotu, 20.Hoskins Sotutu, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Rieko Ioane, 23.Will Jordan.