By Ramiro Scandolo
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Argentina have never beaten New Zealand at rugby in 32 matches but momentum on one side and personnel changes on the other mean they may never have a better chance to end that run than on Saturday in Buenos Aires.
The bulk of the Argentina team play for the Jaguares who this month reached the Super Rugby Championship final for the first time, beating three New Zealand sides on the way.
There is a sense among Argentine rugby fans that it could finally be their year and the addition of five European-based players to their squad has given the Pumas an extra boost.
“The victories over these franchises are liberating, because they came through hard work, they were deserved and showed we have what it takes to beat them (New Zealand teams),” said scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli.
“That gives us confidence and confidence is very important in sport. It’s shaping up to be a tight contest.”
They won’t admit it but the Argentines may also be lifted by the relative inexperience of the visitors.
The world champions are resting eight of the Crusaders players who faced the Jaguares in the Super Rugby final.
Uncapped winger Sevu Reece will start for the All Blacks and four others — prop Atu Moli, loose forward Luke Jacobson, flyhalf Josh Ioane and outside back Braydon Ennor – are expected to make their test debuts from the bench.
The world champions are still favourites, of course, and the men who flew halfway around the world know there is more at stake that points, with places up for grabs in the squad for September’s World Cup.
As if that were not enough, the thought of losing that unbeaten streak in front of a sell-out crowd of 45,000 at the Velez Sarsfield stadium has given them an extra reason to perform.
“If that did happen it would be a very gutting feeling so it is our job just to bring it back to this week, give them the respect they deserve but just make sure we keep our feet on the ground and work hard and prep really well so we give ourselves the best chance of that not happening,” New Zealand hooker Dane Coles said.
(Writing by Andrew Downie, Editing by Ed Osmond)