It's forecast to be a stormy old night in Wellington tonight when the All Blacks take on Argentina at Westpac Stadium. The wind will be blowing, the rain is forecast to lash down, and in hindsight, we're rather glad that we have a commitment tomorrow morning which made a trip to Wellington unrealistic!
The Rugby Championship has revitalised Southern Hemisphere rugby this season. The addition of Argentina to the former Tri-Nations has given the tournament a new focus, and South Africa has already found out how difficult it is to beat Argentina in the Pumas' own back yard.
Argentina plays no-frills rugby, based around a physical forward pack and dogged defence. Both will need to be on-song tonight to repel an All Black side which is showing signs of peaking. The presence of Sir Graham Henry inside the Argentinian camp provides an interesting dynamic, but even with Sir Ted's influence, the Pumas will have to play out of their skins.
The return of Conrad Smith is a huge plus for the All Blacks, and we are sure that the outside backs will appreciate his skills at putting them into space. The rearranged All Black backline shouldn't have too many problems; Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu have played plenty of rugby together and know each other's games inside out. Both Smith and Nonu have played outside Aaron Cruden at the Hurricanes. And the two Aarons, Cruden and Smith are provincial teammates for Manawatu. Combinations should not be an issue, and it is worth remembering that the All Black backline was at its most fluent this year in the final test against Ireland where Cruden ran the game until he was injured.
Steve Hansen has sent out a big message to lock Sam Whitelock; don't rest on your laurels. Whitelock's form this year has been less than dynamic, so Brodie Retallick and Luke Romano will team up for the first time. It is an inexperienced combination, but both are the form All Black locks. And although the second row in relatively inexperienced, Tony Woodcock's return makes the front row one of the All Blacks' most battle-hardened of all time