Sonny Bill Williams is in for New Zealand as they kick off The Rugby Championship defence against Argentina on Friday.
Defending champions New Zealand kick off their Rugby Championship this Friday as they welcome Argentina to AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
The All-Blacks, who are the tournament favourites, have named Sonny Bill Williams in their starting line-up, meaning Ma’a Nonu, who has been in fantastic form, has been shifted into the number 13 jersey in what is a star-studded midfield.
However, in the pack, New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen kept changes at a minimal, picking close to his strongest line-up as he anticipates a difficult afternoon from Los Pumas combative forward line.
Hansen marked Friday’s opening Test as a “must win”, rejecting talk that the world’s top-ranked side have their focus on building for the World Cup.
Argentina, who will take confidence from their first Championship win last year against Australia, have made room to give debuts to No 8 Facundo Isa, lock Guido Petti and winger Santiago Cordero.
Nevertheless, Los Pumas have continued with their powerful and experienced front row, starting with Ramiro Herrera, 26, Marcos Ayerza, 32, and Agustin Creevy, 30, who will continue to captain the side.
And Los Pumas leader had no doubt when questioned that he believes his side can cause a massive upset.
“If we play all together, like with the heart, I think we can win. But we need to do the best game in our life.”
Creevy as well as Waisake Naholo, who is making his All-Blacks debut following a fantastic Super Rugby season with Highlanders, was two of our ten players to watch during The Rugby Championship, check it out here. (link to ten players to watch)
The All-Blacks go into the game having never lost to Argentina (W19, D1) and have won the last 18 meetings between the two nations, most by a convincing margin with New Zealand scoring at least two tries in each of their 20 games against Los Pumas, averaging 5.3 per game.
The hosts have won the competition four of the last five years and victory this year would make it a fourth successive triumph.
Friday’s game will also have an extra appeal and interest because the All Blacks are set to meet Argentina in their opening pool match at the Rugby World Cup in London in September.
Kick off time: 8:35 a.m. BST/3:35 a.m. ET
New Zealand: Israel Dagg; Waisake Naholo, Ma’a Nonu, Sonny Bill Williams, Charles Piutau; Daniel Carter, TJ Perenara; Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu, Owen Franks; Luke Romano, Brodie Retallick; Jerome Kaino, Richie McCaw, Kieran Read.
Replacements: Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Jeremy Thrush, Liam Messam, Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty.
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet; Horacio Agulla, Marcelo Bosch, Jeronimo De la Fuente, Santiago Cordero; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Marcos Ayerza, Agustin Creevy, Ramiro Herrera; Manuel Carizza, Guido Petti; Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Facundo Isa.
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Lucas Noguera, Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, Benjamin Macome, Javier Ortega Desio, Martin Landajo, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.