McKenzie at fly-half for new-look All Blacks against 'wounded' Pumas

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·3-min read
Damian McKenzie will start at flyhalf against Argentina on Saturday (AFP/Patrick HAMILTON)
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All Blacks coach Ian Foster has made wholesale changes to his starting line-up to face "wounded beast" Argentina in Brisbane on Saturday, including a rare start at fly-half for Damian McKenzie.

Only three of the starting side that thrashed Los Pumas 39-0 on Sunday will begin the Rugby Championship fourth-round clash as Foster juggles an intense schedule.

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma also swung the axe, making six changes to his run-on team, with dangerous fly-half Nicolas Sanchez among those dropped.

"With five Tests in a row and a six-day turnaround between these two Argentinian Tests, we were always going to make some selection changes -- five Tests in a row demanded that," said Foster.

"But the good thing is that we have a group that has been focusing on the same opposition for the last two weeks, so our preparation time hasn't been compromised."

Normally preferred at fullback, McKenzie has started only one of his previous 34 Tests at fly-half.

But Foster was confident the 26-year-old would slot into the playmaker role he regularly fills for the Waikato Chiefs, allowing him to give Beauden Barrett a spell on the bench.

"He's trained a lot there, he's filled in at times... he played 35 minutes last week and he has a clear understanding of his role," the coach said.

"It's a vote of confidence in where we think he's at."

Scrum-half TJ Perenara, fullback Jordie Barrett and wing George Bridge are the trio who will start for the second Test in succession.

Ardie Savea returns to the back row and will wear the captain's armband as part of a totally revamped pack that includes veteran prop Joe Moody in his first start of the year after foot surgery.

- 'Smart thing to do' -

Some first-choice players such as Brodie Retallick have no doubt been rested to keep them fresh for upcoming fixtures against the world champion Springboks.

But Foster said it also allowed him to build squad depth by giving some of his less experienced players a run.

"I think it's a smart thing to do, to give opportunity to a wider group of people, but people have to earn that," he said.

He predicted a fierce backlash from Los Pumas to their scoreboard shutout in the last Test.

"We are expecting a huge response from Argentina and we have to make sure we are prepared for that because we know what a wounded beast is like," he said.

Ledesma also made changes as his winless side looks to at least get on the scoreboard.

Along with Sanchez, winger Bautista Delguy, and centres Matias Moroni and Jeronimo de la Fuente lost their places among the backs, with Lucio Cinti, Santiago Chocobares, Emiliano Boffelli, and Santiago Carreras starting instead.

Among the forwards, flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez and lock Tomas Lavanini come in for Rodrigo Bruni and Guido Petti.

New Zealand (15-1): Jordie Barrett; Will Jordan, Rieko Ioane, Quinn Tupaea, George Bridge; Damien McKenzie, TJ Perenara; Hoskins Sotutu, Ardie Savea (capt), Ethan Blackadder; Tupou Vaa'i, Patrick Tuipulotu; Tyrel Lomax, Samisoni Taukei’aho, Joe Moody.

Replacements: Codie Taylor, George Bower, Ofa Tuungafasi, Scott Barrett, Luke Jacobson, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Braydon Ennor

Argentina (15-1): Juan Cruz Mallia; Santiago Cordero, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Chocobares, Emiliano Boffelli; Santiago Carreras, Gonzalo Bertranou, Pablo Matera; Marcos Kremer, Juan Martin Gonzalez; Tomas Lavanini, Matias Alemanno; Santiago Medrano, Julian Montoya (capt), Facundo Gigena

Replacements: Santiago Socino, Carlos Muzzio, Enrique Pieretto, Guido Petti, Tomas Lezana, Gonzalo Garcia, Domingo Miotti, Matias Moroni

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