The All Blacks’ old guard will have a key role to play if they are to get their title defence off to an emphatic start against Argentina at Wembley on Sunday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
A fair few comments have been made about Heyneke Meyer’s decision to back a number of stalwarts in the Springbok squad, but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has echoed that value of experience.
The All Blacks match-day 23 for their World Cup opener boasts more than 1 300 Test caps, and there are three centurions in the starting lineup, with Ma’a Nonu also nearing that mark.
What probably does set the All Blacks apart is that none of their combinations are questioned, and there's no uncertainty over certain individuals. Everyone knows this is their strongest team.
Or as New Zealand Herald writer Gregor Paul put it: ‘Experienced players bring a certain kind of comfort and that's what New Zealand should draw from this selection … It's not just the familiarity of the names that breeds confidence. It is the the predictability of the lineup.’
That said, let’s not forget that at 34 years old, Richie McCaw may no longer be performing at the peak of his powers. But his role as leader is clearly defined, and the All Blacks need him to muster one last epic effort before retirement surely beckons after the World Cup.
We should also not forget that Dan Carter has often hobbled along an injury-riddled road to this World Cup, and at one point there were some suggestions that he wasn’t all that far away from missing out on selection, unfathomable as that may seem.
Conrad Smith is another All Black veteran who will head into battle on Sunday, but the 33-year-old’s almost uncanny understanding with long-time centre partner Ma’a Nonu is what so often sets the Kiwis apart.
Up front, Tony Woodcock is another wily stalwart who will be determined to prove he is not past his prime, and he will have a big responsibility in terms of fronting up to Argentina’s powerful scrum.
It’s clear that in picking their strongest side for Sunday’s clash that the All Blacks are taking nothing for granted despite the fact they have never lost to Argentina, and it's clear that New Zealand will be looking to send out a pretty strong statement at the start of their title defence.
In 2011, it was McCaw who led the team to glory despite a fractured foot, and the most-capped international player of all time is the man around which much will once again revolve during what must be his last hurrah.
McCAW’S STATS THAT MATTER
142 – Test caps
105 – Tests as captain
92 – Test wins as captain
27 – Test tries
HEAD TO HEAD
All Blacks 20, Draw 1
All Blacks – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Victor Vito, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Beauden Barrett, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernandéz, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martin Fernandéz Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Angus Gardner (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport