Aare the All Blacks back? Their win in Johannesburg was certainly encouraging and has given New Zealand rugby enough encouragement to confirm that Ian Foster will be head coach until the 2023 World Cup. But even their most ardent supporters will have retained a hint of cynicism after a fraught run of five losses in six Tests.
Two more coaching changes have fascinating potential. Joe Schmidt, the former Irish honcho, has taken charge of the attack in New Zealand. His reputation is built on demanding strike moves and relentless phase play. Ignite the All Blacks in those areas and they will be a force to be reckoned with in France next year. Jason Ryan, Foster’s new striker coach, appears to have had a very quick impact on maul defense and scrummaging steel.
Argentina are the visitors to Christchurch, arriving on the back of a stunning win on their own. Two weeks ago they sent Australia 48-17, a deluge of points coming from smart kicks and free play. Michael Chieka’s Pumas will hope for more feathers and Pablo Matera, their totemic back-rower, returns to what was his home base with the Crusaders. Remember that in November 2020 Argentina handed New Zealand to win 25-15.
There is major team news, with Beauden Barrett ruled out and replaced on the bench by a potential debutant in Stephen Perofeta, a similar deputy as far as his ability to cover fly-half and full-back.