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The All Blacks have rejected suggestions that Argentina will resort to foul play in Saturday’s Rugby Championship Test in Hamilton as they brace for a physical challenge from the South Americans.
Argentina came under the microscope after their recent defeat to South Africa, with Leonardo Senatore receiving a nine-week suspension for biting while Pablo Matera was accused of eye-gouging, though he was found not guilty.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, when naming his line-up on Thursday, admitted Los Pumas were “physical” but said: “I don’t see them as being a dirty team.”
Hansen has made three changes to the side that beat Australia two weeks ago, including handing aTest debut to 22-year-old Auckland Blues centre Francis Saili, who comes in for Ma’a Nonu, missing with an ankle injury.
Saili, who has exceptional attacking skills but is also prone to basic errors, makes his first start between two of the elder statesmen of the All Blacks, flyhalf Dan Carter in his 96th Test and outside centre Conrad Smith, playing his 72nd international.
The injury-plagued Carter returns at flyhalf after an unconvincing display against France in June, while Charlie Faumuina replaces injured prop Owen Franks.
The All Blacks are expected to target Argentina’s traditional forward-based power game but backrower Kieran Read said they will aim to do so legally.
“What they do will dictate I guess a little bit but we’re going to stay as clean as we can. There are ways you can dominate without being cheap and nasty.”
Hansen said he was expecting a physical confrontation because “that’s one of their great strengths”.
“We’re not playing tiddlywinks. Every now and again people do things they probably don’t want to do. In the heat of the battle, it happens,” he said.
“I don’t see them as being a dirty team. That’s what everyone is trying to imply. I don’t think they are, I think they’re a good team.”
Influential Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, who missed his side’s two defeats against South Africa because of injury, is not interested in raking over the Springbok Tests.
“We need to put all of this behind us and focus on what is a hard tour,” said Lobbe, who returns to Argentina’s loose-forward trio.
“The goal of the tour is to continue to grow with every game and that isn’t necessarily about winning. Our aspiration is to have a winning mentality, to control the game and try to play to our strengths.”
Argentina, who have former All Blacks World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry as their technical director, have played New Zealand 16 times but have yet to win.
Israel Dagg; Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Francis Saili, Julian Savea; Dan Carter, Aaron Smith; Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), Steven Luatua; Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick; Charlie Faumuina, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Replacements: Dane Coles, Ben Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Beauden Barrett, Charles Piutau.
Juan Martin Hernandez, Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla; Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Pablo Matera, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe; Julio Farias Cabello, Manuel Carizza; Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu, Marcos Ayerza. Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Lobo, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Mariano Galarza, Benjamin Macome, Tomas Cubelli, Felipe Contepomi, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.