The All Blacks’ big win over Italy last week means that they are in a strong position heading into their final Pool A match against Uruguay in Lyon.
It’s a simple equation. A bonus-point win and New Zealand are heading to the quarter-finals, no matter what happens between France and Italy at the same venue on Friday night.
Captain Sam Cane leads a side featuring nine changes from the one that beat Italy 96-17. Cam Roigard starts at scrum-half and Damian McKenzie is at full-back for the first time since November 2021.
Thirteen places and more than 20 points separate the two sides in World Rugby Men's Rankings powered by Capgemini. The bare statistics suggest a big win for the All Blacks – but mention stats and Uruguay can simply point to the events of three weeks ago, against France, in Lille…
Los Teros' coach Esteban Meneses has made seven changes to the starting XV from the comeback win over Namibia. Lucas Bianchi makes his first start at RWC 2023 in the back row, as does the experienced Rodrigo Silva, in place of Baltazar Amaya at full-back, and Gastón Mieres replaces Bautista Basso on the right wing.
Manuel Ardao, meanwhile, has been the most dangerous breakdown player in the tournament, hitting a competition-high 32 defensive rucks, winning the most steals – six – and forcing the fourth-most penalties – two.
There are scenarios in which France, Italy and New Zealand can finish level on points at the top of Pool A. But their +133 points difference coming into this round of matches means the All Blacks have an important edge in any permutation calculations.
FIXTURE: New Zealand v Uruguay
GROUND: OL Stadium, Lyon (58,883)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
This is just the second time the two sides have met. The first was a week shy of exactly 47 years ago, on 12 October, 1976, when the All Blacks won 64-3 at Estadio Militar, in Montevideo.
Ignore the game from more than a generation ago. Uruguay have more recent encounters to draw on for this meeting, notably the one against hosts France earlier in this tournament. That match was still in the balance in the 55th minute, and still not out of Uruguay’s reach until the 74th.
That was the South Americans’ opening match. They were out to impress, then. Barring a remarkable result here – it’s still mathematically possible for Uruguay to reach the quarter-finals, but it would involve completely rewriting the definition of the term ‘shock result’ – this will be their last. And they will be out to make their mark on another one of the Rugby World Cup’s most successful sides.
KEY TALKING POINT
Ball-in-play time is often referenced as a data point these days – accepted wisdom has it that the higher that figure, the better the match.
It’s not always true. The epic meeting between South Africa and Ireland had the fifth-lowest ball-in-play time of the 32 matches in this tournament to date, at 29 minutes and 56 seconds. Scotland’s 84-0 win over Romania has the highest ball-in-play time so far at this Rugby World Cup – 39 minutes and 40 seconds.
And the match with the lowest ball-in-play time? New Zealand’s 71-3 win over Namibia – at 27 minutes and 13 seconds.
Cam Roigard v Santiago Arata. A second Rugby World Cup start, and a third tournament outing for Roigard, who already has two tries and two try assists to his name. But this is arguably his biggest personal RWC challenge yet, against the electric nine from Uruguay.
In his 150th test, All Blacks’ second-row Sam Whitelock will play his 23rd Rugby World Cup match, breaking Jason Leonard and Richie McCaw’s all-time appearance record. Whitelock and his ex-skipper McCaw are currently tied on 20 RWC wins. That’s another record that could fall in Lyon.
Wayne Barnes (England). The experienced official has operated a zero tolerance approach to misdeeds so far in this tournament – blowing for a total of 71 penalties in his three matches to date. Only France’s Mathieu Raynal (also 71) has penalised offences as often.
NEW ZEALAND Damian McKenzie; Will Jordan, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Leicester Fainga’anuku; Richie Mo’unga, Cam Roigard; Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Codie Taylor, Tyrel Lomax; Samuel Whitelock, Tupou Vaa’i; Shannon Frizell, Sam Cane (captain), Luke Jacobson
Replacements: Samisoni Taukei’aho, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Scott Barrett, Ethan Blackadder, Finlay Christie, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke
URUGUAY Rodrigo Silva; Gastón Mieres, Tomas Inciarte, Andres Vilaseca (captain), Nicolas Freitas; Felipe Etcheverry, Santiago Arata; Mateo Sanguinetti, German Kessler, Diego Arbelo; Ignacio Dotti, Manuel Leindekar; Manuel Ardao, Lucas Bianchi, Manuel Diana
Replacements: Guillermo Pujadas, Matias Benitez, Ignacio Peculo, Juan Manuel Rodríguez, Santiago Civetta, Agustin Ormaechea, Felipe Berchesi, Juan Manuel Alonso