This weekend it is South Africa's turn to try and halt the All Blacks' seemingly unstoppable momentum in pursuit of a sixth Rugby Championship title in seven years.
While another bonus-point this weekend would see the world champion All Blacks have one hand firmly on the trophy, coach Steve Hansen continues to use the southern hemisphere's flagship international competition as a vehicle to strengthen the depth of his squad ahead of Rugby World Cup 2019.
As such, he has made several changes to his starting line-up for the visit of a South African side that has lost its last two fixtures. The Springboks, in contrast, have only made minor alterations, as have Australia and Argentina who do battle in the other match on the Gold Coast.
New Zealand (1) v South Africa (7)
The Barrett brothers start a Rugby Championship match together for the first time in another much-changed All Blacks line-up that is still missing Sonny Bill Williams. The centre was in line to return to the match-day squad with a place on the bench following a shoulder injury, but Hansen has opted to give him another week’s rest after he went down with tonsillitis during the week with Jack Goodhue occupying the No.22 jersey instead.
Despite enjoying an impressive first test start, Richie Mo’unga drops out of the squad altogether with Beauden Barrett returning to pull the strings at fly-half. Brother Jordie is named at full-back with Ben Smith picked on the right wing instead of Nehe Milner-Skudder, the scorer of the All Blacks’ first try in last week’s entertaining 46-24 win over Argentina. Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown partner up in new-look midfield combination while the rejigged backline is completed by Aaron Smith at scrum-half and Rieko Ioane on the left wing. The front row of Karl Tu’inukuafe, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks stays intact but, elsewhere in the pack, there are changes with Sam Whitelock taking the place of Brodie Retallick alongside Scott Barrett in the second row. Captain Kieran Read remains at number eight but there are new faces either side of him in Liam Squire and Sam Cane.
Handré Pollard (pictured) will start at fly-half as the Springboks make three changes of personnel and one positional for the trip to Wellington. Elton Jantjies drops to the bench as a result of Pollard’s inclusion in the starting line-up. Elsewhere, Jesse Kriel moves from outside-centre to the right wing to cover for the injured Makazole Mapimpi, and his place in midfield is taken by Lukhanyo Am. The only change to the pack sees hooker Malcolm Marx rotating starting places with Bongi Mbonambi, while on the bench Ross Cronje comes in for Embrose Papier as the reserve scrum-half.
- New Zealand and South Africa have played each other 95 times since 1921, with 57 wins to the All Blacks, 35 to South Africa and three draws
- New Zealand have won 35 of the 47 Rugby Championship meetings against South Africa
- New Zealand’s biggest win against the Springboks was last year when the All Blacks won 57-0 in Albany
- The All Blacks need 45 points for 2,000 in tests against South Africa, while the Springboks are only 18 short of 1,500 points scored in fixtures between the two teams
- South Africa have not won in six previous attempts at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington, scoring nine tries and conceding 19
- Beauden Barrett, who scored four tries in his last outing in the Bledisloe Cup-winning test, has now scored 23 tries in the 10 jersey, one behind the record scored by Daniel Carter
- Handré Pollard is just 17 points away from scoring 100 points in the Rugby Championship
- Eben Etzebeth will play in his record 36th consecutive Rugby Championship match
New Zealand cannot improve their rating with a victory but will remain number one in the world even if beaten by more than 15 points. The gap between themselves and Ireland in second would be down to 1.4 points in that event. A defeated South Africa will remain in seventh whatever the outcome in Wellington, although a win would see them climb above Scotland. If combined with a defeat for Australia, fifth place is within their grasp.
Australia (5) v Argentina (9)
David Pocock and Israel Folau return from injury to take their place in the Australian starting line-up for Saturday’s match against Argentina on the Gold Coast. Pocock has been battling a neck complaint while an ankle has sidelined Folau since the opening Bledisloe Cup encounter. Folau comes into the side on the right wing with Dane Haylett-Petty retaining the No.15 jersey after two standout displays at full-back. Pocock lines up at number eight in an otherwise unchanged pack. On the bench, however, veteran prop Sekope Kepu and second-row Adam Coleman return to the match-day squad after missing the Wallabies’ 23-18 win over South Africa.
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma has recalled Gonzalo Bertranou at scrum-half as one of three changes to his starting line-up. Bertranou started Argentina's first two matches of the Rugby Championship against South Africa, including the 32-19 victory in Mendoza, but sat out the loss to the All Blacks in Nelson. Ledesma has also made changes to his front row in a bid to resolve the set-piece problems that beset Los Pumas against the world champions. Santiago Medrano has been brought in at tight-head prop, while Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro has reverted back to loose-head. The third change was enforced by injury with Pablo Matera moving up from the bench to replace Tomas Lezana at blindside flanker.
- Argentina have tasted victory in just one test against the Wallabies on Australian soil back in 1983, on their first visit to the country
- Australia and Argentina have met twice before at the Cbus Super Stadium with the Wallabies sneaking home with single-digit wins on both occasions (23-19 in 2012 and 32-25 in 2014)
- Australia are just two tries short of 100 in tests against Argentina
- Argentina need 32 points to reach 500 in tests against Australia
- The home side has won 17 times to the visitors' 11 in fixtures between the teams with one draw
- Michael Hooper has won less than half his matches as Wallabies captain (13 out of 32)
Due to the gap between the sides in the rankings, Australia cannot improve their rating with a victory. However, they will fall one place if both they and South Africa lose with Scotland the beneficiary. If South Africa win, though, a beaten Australia will fall place another to seventh and occupy their lowest position since the rankings began in October 2003. Argentina must win by more than 15 points to climb above France into eighth.
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