Steve Hansen has named an exciting All Black squad to face Argentina on Saturday which sees the return of one of the stars of the 2015 World Cup.
Hansen has characterised the game as one of ‘taking opportunities.’
Here are five talking points which might give an insight into what the master coach will be looking for against the Pumas.
1. Is it possible to have too many magicians in the backline?
The long-awaited return of Nehe Milner-Scudder to the Test side is one which will be welcomed by fans of entertaining rugby.
The Manawatu hot stepper has scored eight tries in as many matches including six in the Rugby World Cup.
His footwork and rugby intelligence are second to none and his combination with fellow wizard Damian McKenzie will be one to savour.
Indeed, with the return of the verve and swerve of Israel Dagg, the outrageous offloading skills of Sonny Bill Williams and Anton Lienert Brown and, of course, the freakish talents of Beauden Barrett, this must be one of the most skilful and exuberant backlines assembled by the All Blacks in recent years.
But will this electric backline miss a Ryan Crotty-like steadying influence?
2. Is Vaea Fifita’s selection actually a trial for two players?
After Liam Squire’s impressive displays in the two Bledisloe Cup games, Hansen has decided to give the long-striding Hurricane Fifita his first Test start.
If he impresses, will the death knell sound for the long-serving Jerome Kaino? Kaino has taken a break from the All Black squad for personal reasons, and the All Black management have given him the space to put his ducks in a row before returning to the squad.
Hansen’s loyalty to his long-serving players will no doubt see the 34-year-old return at some stage in the Rugby Championship, but as we have seen with the exit of Julian Savea, Hansen is also not afraid to make decisive moves with a view to the future.
3. When will Hansen trust Lima Sopoaga in the number 10 jersey?
Despite Sopoaga’s strong performance off the bench in the second Test against the Wallabies, Hansen’s reluctance to rotate him into the starting fly-half position is not exactly the vote of confidence the 26-year-old Southlander needs.
Sopoaga has shown his big match credentials in his debut against the Springboks and Hansen may have felt that his inclusion at starting fly-half would be one change too many to a starting backline with only Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams and Damian McKenzie backing up from the second Bledisloe Test.
Hansen will have to give Sopoaga more opportunities to steer the team in the future, as he will want to manage the workload of the invaluable Barrett.
4. Is this the Test when Ngani Laumape cements his position in the squad?
Laumape stepped into a pressure-cooker situation in the third Test against the Lions and, alongside Jordie Barrett, performed admirably.
He was unlucky to miss selection for the Wallaby tests, but Ryan Crotty’s continuing injury problems and Sonny Bill Williams’ erratic displays has meant that there is still an opening for the Hurricanes cannonball.
Expect a huge impact from him against a tiring Puma defensive line in the second half.
5. Is Beauden Barrett about to catch fire again?
The signs were there in the second Test and especially his final match-winning try against the Wallabies.
Barrett’s killer instincts have returned. In the Lions Tests he played well, without showing the devastating form which won him the IRB Player of the Year in 2016.
In the early season Tests he was perhaps trying to manufacture his brilliance rather than just living in the moment – when laws of gravity and bounces of rugby balls seem to be under his control.
Barrett will pair with his Hurricanes team-mate TJ Perenara at scrum-half and will be playing in front of his home crowd in Taranaki.
Ominous signs for the Pumas? You bet.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena
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Read More About: all black coach steve hansen, All Blacks, Anton Leinert-Brown, argentina rugby, beauden barrett, Damian McKenzie, israel dagg, lima sopoaga, nehe milner-skudder, Ngani Laumape, pumas, Ryan Crotty (NZ), SBW, Sonny Bill Williams, TJ Perenara