All Blacks vs Pumas Reaction09:54:00, Mon 2 Oct 2017 Jim Kayes
Recent history suggests All Blacks coach Steve Hansen may have made a rare mistake in his planning.
Hansen left five of his frontline All Blacks at home when the squad travelled to Argentina to take on the Pumas, figuring the test this weekend against South Africa needed some fresh legs.
He'd wanted to leave six at home but Lima Sopoaga asked if he could stay home for the birth of his first child, so Beauden Barrett went to Argentina in his place. Sopoaga has since travelled to South Africa with Sam Whitelock, Liam Squire, Ryan Crotty and Sam Cane. Brodie Retallick was meant to join the squad in South Africa too but his wife, Niki, has miscarried so he is understandably staying with her.
All Blacks selector Grant Fox admitted they'd "rolled the dice" in taking a slightly under-strength squad to Argentina but argued they had to try and freshen the players up.
He said they'd notice a drop off in performance in the November tests in Britain and Europe in recent years and that the coaches were hoping mixing the squad's travel and playing commitments might help. But it could be argued Hansen has his tests around the wrong way.
In the past three tests against South Africa the All Blacks have won by an average of 52-9, while they've been beaten Argentina 44-20 in their last three matches. That includes the tough first half in Albany and the disappointing second half in Buenos Aires when the All Blacks failed to kick on from a 29-3 lead at the break to win 36-10.
Fox says jetlag will have played a part in that second half drop off which is why the All Blacks have fresh troops waiting for them in Cape Town. And though it's tempting to be cheeky and suggest Argentina are now a tougher opponent than South Africa, it's not quite that simple.
The Pumas have never beaten the All Blacks and the Springboks have a deep rivalry against the All Blacks that may have waned in recent years, but it still extremely strong for the players. Fox suggests it is the respect that the All Blacks have for the Springboks that is behind their recent big wins. "We've tended to have some of our better performances against them so that perhaps shows how we rate them.
"That doesn't mean we clock off against other sides, there is just something about the physical challenge you face against South Africans and all the history that goes well before this group of men.
"The coaching staff doesn't need to do anything to get the guys up. There's no little mind games or tweaks you've got to do, the group just does it themselves. "So that tells you all you need to know. We respect them regardless that we've got them good and proper the last few times. The fact that we've played well and kept it on suggests that we do respect them enormously even though the score line doesn't really reflect that."
Cape Town's Newlands stadium has been good the All Blacks. They have strong support their from coloured South Africans who favoured the Kiwis during the apartheid era. It shows on the scoreboard. Since the game turned professional they've played South Africa in Cape Town four times, winning three of those tests including a 19-0 shutout in 2008.
Interest in this weekend's test centres on how South Africa will respond to the 57-0 hiding they suffered in Albany last month as they come off another draw with Australia. Fox says the All Blacks felt the South African's were improving, but perhaps not as much as it had seemed when they beat France 3-0 in June, then Argentina in back-to-back tests to kick start the Rugby Championship.
"Yes we got them good and proper in Albany but the team we will face in Cape Town is going to be hurting. If we thought Albany was physical - and it was - she's going to be up a notch or two in Cape Town so we're going to need to be ready for that." And I think we will be a better gauge as to whether they have made much progress."