The All Blacks and Argentina each made seven changes to their starting lineups Thursday for Saturday’s Rugby Championship test at New Plymouth on New Zealand’s North Island.
Winger Nehe Milner-Skudder returns after a long battle with injury to play his first test for New Zealand since the 2015 World Cup final as part of a reorganized backline. T.J. Perenara will start at scrumhalf, Anton Lienert-Brown replaces Ryan Crotty at centre and Israel Dagg returns on the right wing, replacing Ben Smith who is taking a break from international rugby.
Vaea Fifita will make his first test start in his second test at blindside flanker while Ardie Savea starts on the open side and Sam Cane drops to the bench. Luke Romano will make his first test start of the season, combining with Brodie Retallick in the second row.
Argentina surprisingly omitted veteran backrower Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro returns at tighthead prop in place of Ramiro Herrera, who is injured, while Guido Petti has been named at lock, replacing Tomas Lavanini.
Lavanini was sent off after receiving two yellow cards in Argentina’s 41-23 loss to South Africa at Salta on Aug. 27. While he was not suspended, head coach Daniel Hourcade left him out of his 29-man squad for Saturday’s match and the test against Australia a week later.
Backrower Leonardo Senatore, who played in Argentina’s 37-15 loss to the Springboks at Port Elizabeth but was dropped for the return match, was also omitted from the touring squad. Javier Ortega Desio and Benjamin Macome have been named in the backrow, replacing Tomas Lezana and Leguizamon.
“Benjamin Macome is training very well, is a ball carrier similar to Leguizamon and now will have his opportunity,” Hourcade said. “The rest of the players are also training very well and, as I always say, there are no substitutes and starters. We choose the best player for each match.”
Nicolas Sanchez returns at flyhalf in place of Juan Martin Hernandez, Matias Moroni starts at centre in place of Matias Orlando and winger Santiago Cordero replaces Ramiro Moyano.
The All Blacks selectors have retained Sonny Bill Williams at inside centre despite his poor performance in New Zealand’s most recent Rugby Championship test against Australia. Williams made four handling errors in the first few minutes and also missed some crucial tackles in a match that the All Blacks won 35-29 after trailing with three minutes to go.
New Zealand is unbeaten in the Rugby Championship after two wins over Australia but needs a major improvement after its latest, faltering effort against the Wallabies.
“This test match is all about us taking opportunities,” head coach Steve Hansen said.
Argentina, which opened the Rugby Championship with two losses to South Africa, has never beaten New Zealand in 24 tests. It came closest when it achieved a draw in Buenos Aires in 1985.