IRB Rugby World Cup 2015: New Zealand vs Argentina Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

New Zealand vs Argentina | Sunday 20 September | Wembley Stadium, London | 17:45

The highest profile game of the first round sees Steve Hansen’s All Blacks take on Daniel Hourcade’s Pumas at Wembley Stadium. With the likes of Tonga, Georgia and Namibia making up the rest of Pool C, a win for either of the two Rugby Championship participants will likely result in them finishing top of the group.

While there’s a lot of pressure for the big name teams in Pool A and B to top their groups in order to give themselves an easier draw in the quarterfinals, this isn’t really the case for the duo from Group C. Topping the group will count for little as the winner will face either Ireland or France in the quarters, whilst the loser will face one of the two aforementioned European big guns. In total, the pair from the Southern Hemisphere have met 21 times, with Argentina’s best result coming in the form of a draw in 1985. The last three games between the nations have seen New Zealand win by a margin of 21 points twice and 19 points once. The most recent of these encounters came in a Rugby Championship game at Christchurch. The Argentines were blown away in the first stanza but showed great resolve to get back into the game in the second. The game ended with the Kiwis winning 39-18. This game promises to have as much drama as the numerous FA Cup finals that have been staged at Wembley. Thankfully though, we will see none of the football theatrics that are usually on show at the hallowed ground.

IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Fixtures

To Win (80mins)
New Zealand  1/25
Draw  40/1
Argentina  17/2

New Zealand  (-21.5) 9/10
Argentina  (+21.5) 9/10

New Zealand
If you asked international rugby coaches who they think has the best job in the world, they’d more than likely answer Steve Hansen. The reason for this is simple; the All Black mentor has a plethora of talent to choose from. While Hansen is the envy of the international coaching community, I honestly think he is under more pressure than most coaches at the tournament. His decision to leave Highlanders pivot Lima Sopoaga out of his World Cup squad was met with mixed reaction in the Land of the Long White Cloud. This goes to illustrate just how much scrutiny Hansen comes under with every decision he makes. While many see the cunning nature of the decision to add utility back Colin Slade to the squad, so as to provide cover for numerous positions, others think it’s foolhardy not to take a third specialist ten.

Regardless of what the New Zealand public think of Hansen’s team selection, the whole nation will be behind the coach and his charges come Sunday’s kick-off. The Kiwis will need this as they start the competition off against one of the sides that have really impressed in 2015. While Hansen is yet to announce his match day squad, he will undoubtedly be fielding his strongest possible fifteen for this encounter. With so much quality to choose from, Hansen must be questioning what his actual strongest XV is. In my opinion his best backline has Aaron Smith at nine, Beauden Barrett at ten, Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith in the centres, Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julian Savea on the wings and finally Ben Smith at fifteen. I think Hansen’s view differs a bit from mine. The All Black mentor seems to prefer Dan Carter at ten instead of Barrett, and he may well go with the raw power of fit again Waisake Naholo in the place of Milner-Skudder on the wing.

While the composition of the All Blacks’ best backline is still up in the air, the forward pack almost picks itself. McCaw, Read and either Kaino or Messam make up one of the strongest loose trios to ever take a to a rugby field. In the second row, Luke Romano and Brodie Retallick are arguably the world’s best locking combination. The front row is a bit more of a toss-up, but there is so much quality available that Hansen may want to rotate in an effort to see who is in the best form. This game  offers the perfect opportunity to do just this, with the Argentine scrum sure to offer a solid test.

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2015 has been the year of the Puma. While Kim Kardashian has been busy breaking the internet, Daniel Hourcade’s charges broke rugby when they beat the Springboks in the final game of the Rugby Championship. Hourcade’s squad will want to continue with their giant slaying antics when they come up against New Zealand on Sunday and what better place to do this than on the Wembley turf which has seen many a lower league football side arrive at this ground for a FA Cup semi-final after slaying a few giants of their own.

While Hourcade’s side is more than capable of playing an expansive brand of rugby, they will look to keep it simple against their opponents this weekend. With tropical rainstorm ‘Henri’ having moved through the United Kingdom this week, the playing conditions may well suit the Argentine strategy. With the field likely to be soaked by heavy rains brought on by this storm, the Northern Hemisphere-esque ten man rugby philosophy that is likely to be implemented by the Pumas may see this game become a lot tighter than expected. They certainly have the forward pack to excel in these conditions.

Lead by skipper Augustin Creevy, the Argentine pack has been a revelation in 2015. While most sides have looked to more skilled, ball playing forwards in recent times, Los Pumas’ pack focus mainly on the set-piece. This is not to say their forwards are a throwback to the amateur era, they have some excellent ball players among the pack, but these men simply pride themselves on the set-piece. If the Argentines are to pull off one of the biggest shock wins in World Cup history they are going to have to dominate the set-pieces. While Hourcade is yet to announce his match day squad, it’s likely to comprise of the same players who beat the Springboks in early August. Creevy, alongside fellow forward veterans Marcus Ayerza and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, are likely to start. While Creevy and Ayerza will be integral to ensuring the Argentines challenge at set-piece time, Lobbe will be tasked with disrupting the opponent’s ball at the breakdown. While all the focus has been on the Argentine pack they also possess some extremely talented backs. Winger Juan Imhoff showed just how devastating he can be with ball in hand during the Rugby Championship, while Marcelo Bosch was a defensive beast during said tournament.

VERDICT: Argentina (+21.5) 9/10
With the All Blacks having failed to beat the Argentines by more than this margin in their previous three games and World Cup fixtures often seeing tighter scorelines than in normal Test matches, I don’t fancy the Silver Ferns to overcome the differential.

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