09/14/2017 | News release | Distributed by Public on 09/14/2017 04:09
Saturday night's action in The Rugby Championship pits the top two and the bottom two against each other with New Zealand and South Africa going toe-to-toe in Albany and Australia taking on Argentina in Canberra.
Last weekend's results saw New Zealand overtake South Africa at the summit of the table, the All Blacks holding a three-point lead over the Springboks thanks to their 39-22 comeback win over Argentina and South Africa's draw against Australia in Perth. The Wallabies are third, on three points, while Argentina have yet to get off the mark.
With first-choice props Owen Franks and Joe Moody out injured, the All Blacks field a new-look front row for what many people believe will be their biggest test to date in this season's competition.
In the forwards, prop Kane Hames gets his first start in his third test, as a replacement for Moody, with six cap tight-head Nepo Laulala on the other side of the scrum.
Elsewhere in the pack, Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are reunited in the second row and Liam Squire has been named at six, with Sam Cane back at seven and Ardie Savea axcting as loose forward cover.
In the backs, Aaron Smith returns to the 23 for his 65th test with TJ Perenara on the bench, Ryan Crotty is back at centre, with Anton Lienert-Brown in the reserves, and Rieko Ioane is restored to the left wing.
'Our big focus this week has been about continual improvement, growing ourselves as a team, growing our game and how we want to play it, and how we want to play against different opposition. Sunday to Friday gives us the opportunity to look at ourselves individually and collectively and get better as a team. We need the games we are getting at the moment, we've had a bit of adversity, and that will only make us better,' said All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen.
While looking for a step up in performance from the last two rounds, Hansen is aware that Saturday's test will be just that - a test.
'They scrummage well, they attack well with the ball and their defence is getting better. So that's basically the game. We know they're a tough opponent - they're always a tough opponent. There's a long-standing history and rivalry between our two teams. We enjoy playing them, they play hard and it's always competitive. But afterwards they're always keen to catch up for a chat and a beer.'
New Zealand have racked up 98 points in the last two matches between the sides, winning both comfortably, but the four encounters before that were all settled by seven or less points.
Following their 23-all draw against the Wallabies last Saturday, which extended their unbeaten run to six matches, the Springboks have made three changes up front, with prop Ruan Dreyer, lock Franco Mostert and flanker Jean-Luc du Preez replacing Pieter-Steph du Toit, and the injured pair of Coenie Oosthuizen and Jaco Kriel. The backline remains unchanged.
From a rankings perspective, there's two points at stake either way if South Africa win by 15 or less, and three of the margin is greater. For New Zealand, the worse-case scenario is a fall to 92.21 points - putting them just over two points clear of England in second, while South Africa's new tally would increase to 88.81 points, cementing their place in third.
RECORD LOW POSSIBLE
In the battle of the bottom two, Australia cannot move any higher than their current position of fifth with victory over Argentina in Canberra. But a first victory of the Championship for Los Pumas would see them climb two places to eighth, possibly more, with France and Fiji losing ground as a result.
Should Australia lose by more than 15 points, they would drop to seventh - their worst-ever position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003 - and finish the weekend just a third of a point higher than Argentina.
Wallabies head coach Michael Cheika has made just one change to his starting line-up, Rob Simmons coming into the second row in place of Rory Arnold. Former Rugby League try-scoring machine Marika Koroibete is in line to make his debut after being named amongst the replacements.
A re-jigged Los Pumas backline sees goal-kicking wing Emiliano Boffani move to full-back with Ramiro Moyano and Matias Moroni lining up on the left and right flanks respectively. Former Brumbies scrum-half Tomas Cubelli has been shifted to the bench, with Martin Landajo taking the starting spot against Australia.
The forwards have seen change too, with Tomas Lezana coming into the starting team at number eight, while Juan Manuel Leguizamon takes his place amongst the replacements.
The World Rugby Rankings are updated at noon (GMT 12:00) every Monday.