Beauden Barrett will be given another opportunity to start at flyhalf when the All Blacks play Argentina in La Plata on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Barrett made 14 Test appearances off the bench in that position before finally getting to wear the No 10 jersey against Argentina in Napier earlier this month.
He got the chance then because of a chest injury to Aaron Cruden, and he's been given another one on Saturday because of Cruden's bad behaviour last weekend that saw him go out drinking and miss the team's flight to Argentina. While a sheepish Cruden was being photographed peeking out the front door of his Hamilton home, one of a happy Barrett on the plane, giving a thumbs up, was shared on social media.
Barrett will be eager to improve on his performance in Napier. While the 23-year-old had a hand in three of the All Blacks' tries and made a clean break, he missed four kicks at goal out of five, battled with his restarts, and made four handling errors before being replaced by Colin Slade after 56 minutes.
With matches against the Pumas in La Plata and the Springboks at Ellis Park over the next two Saturdays, Barrett can stake a serious claim for the backup flyhalf position that Cruden has made his own, and also put pressure on the injury-prone Dan Carter when he returns for the end-of-year Tests.
Barrett's inclusion is one of five changes to the team that beat the Boks in Wellington.
Malakai Fekitoa will start at inside centre for the injured Ma’a Nonu, lock Sam Whitelock and blindside flanker Jerome Kaino return from injury, and Keven Mealamu will wear the No 2 jersey after Dane Coles returned to New Zealand to be with his partner for the birth of their child.
Meanwhile, the Pumas have made three changes to the starting XV that lost 32-25 on the Gold Coast with Tomás Cubelli starting at scrumhalf ahead of Martín Landajo, Benjamin Macome coming in at blindside flank in place of the injured Juan Manuel Leguizamón and Tomas Lavanini replacing Matías Alemanno at No 5 lock.
While the Pumas will be fired up at home, it's hard to see them denying the world champions a bonus-point win that will see them retain their Rugby Championship title with a round to spare.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: All Blacks 18, Drawn 1
In Argentina: All Blacks 7, Drawn 1
BARRETT'S STATS THAT MATTER
3 – The number of Tests he has started for the All Blacks (two at fullback and one at flyhalf)
20 – The number of times he has come off the bench (14 at flyhalf, three on the wing, two at fullback and one at centre)
56 – The number of minutes he played at 10 against Argentina in Napier earlier this month
4 – The number of kicks he missed at goal out of five
4 – The number of handling errors he made
61 – The number of running metres he made from five carries
1 – The number of clean breaks he made
Sources: Scrum.com, Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Juan Imhoff, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Benjamin Macome, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Matías Cortese, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
All Blacks – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Cory Jane.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images