16 Jul 2015

All Blacks to unleash linebreakers against Pumas

2:54 pm on 16 July 2015

The All Blacks pack is about to get another chance to shake out the cobwebs - and a potentially game-breaking combination will be given a rare start in the midfield when the All Blacks begin their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina on Friday.

Sonny Bill Williams at All Blacks training

Sonny Bill Williams training with the All Blacks Photo: Photosport

Mindful that the World Cup opener against the Pumas at Wembley Stadium is less than two months away, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has stuck with close to his best pack to take on the combative visiting forwards in Christchurch.

It is the backline, however, that creates the most interest - with Ma'a Nonu coming off his best Super Rugby season in a long time at second-five, taking the Number 13 shirt to allow code-swapper Sonny Bill Williams to slot in inside him.

They will provide an immense punch in the midfield to counteract Argentina's rushing defence, with Hansen hoping Nonu's straight running will benefit from his partner's ability to offload in the tackle.

Attention will also be focused on debutant winger Waisake Naholo, who had a breakout Super Rugby season for the champion Highlanders as the competition's top try scorer. He could be a trump card in the World Cup if he can step up to test level.

The Pumas might be more than a little concerned at having to face the bulk and pace of Naholo and the prolific Julian Savea out wide.

Israel Dagg has been retained at fullback, despite being one of the many players who looked rusty last week in stifling conditions in Samoa - where the All Blacks needed first-five Dan Carter's goal kicking to get them home 25-16.

Carter and captain Richie McCaw will be playing their final tests in front of their home Canterbury crowd.

But there will be precious little sentiment if the All Blacks manage to lose their first game to the Pumas in their 21st encounter.

Argentina will have taken heart from New Zealand's sloppy performance at the breakdown against Samoa and experienced loose forwards Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon are determined to provide another stern test on Friday.

"We have put a massive amount of detail into the breakdown," Lobbe said.

"Last year, we got the highest percentage of quick ball. Everyone talks that in international rugby, you have to have rucks cleared between zeo and three seconds. We managed to get a lot of it last year. For us, it's very important."

Lobbe said he felt his side were far better than they were when he led them in their maiden Rugby Championship campaign three years ago.

"We try to have a lot more than just the passion and the energy," he added.

"We are trying to be well-controlled and play our game plan. We are trying to play a lot with the ball, be aggressive on defence and attack. We are making little steps forward."