New Zealand vs. Argentina: Players with a Point to Prove
With two games down in the 2013 Rugby Championship, New Zealand have continued where they left off last year.
The All Blacks went through last year's tournament unbeaten and have maintained that form with two relatively comfortable wins over Australia.
Argentina, tournament new boys last season, have yet to win a game, but managed to bounce back from a thumping defeat in South Africa with an impressive effort in the return fixture two weeks ago when they lost 22-17.
For New Zealand, victory should be a formality. The Pumas pack will be competitive as always, but they simply lack the strike runners to seriously trouble the All Blacks.
We look at a number of players from both side who have a point to prove during this third-round clash in Hamilton.
Francis Saili, New Zealand
One player's misfortune is another player's fortune, and that is certainly the case for centre Francis Saili.
All Black veteran Ma'a Nonu has an ankle injury that needs resting, so New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has decided to hand a debut cap to Saili.
The Auckland Blues back certainly has the talent to play at the highest level, now he has to prove that he has the focus and concentration to represent New Zealand.
The All Blacks are renowned for their efficiency and ability to make the right decisions under pressure. That will be Saili's challenge this weekend.
As Hansen told Farifax News via stuff.co.nz, the All Blacks management certainly rate the 22-year-old highly:
With Ma'a's on-going niggly ankle we have taken the opportunity to rest him and introduce Francis to international rugby and we want to congratulate him on his selection. We have complete faith in his ability to do the job. He is a very exciting, young player who has a multi-talented skill set that should suit test rugby.
Santiago Fernandez, Argentina
The selection of veteran Felipe Contepomi against England over the summer and for the first two matches of the Rugby Championship, has had something of a stopgap measure about it.
There is no questioning Contepomi's leadership qualities and ability to kick his goals, but at age 36, the years are definitely catching up on him. He surely cannot be part of coach Santiago Phelan's plans for the 2015 World Cup.
Argentina need to find an adequate replacement for Contepomi at inside centre and have started that process by dropping the veteran to the bench and starting with Santiago Fernandez alongside Marcelo Bosch in the centres.
At 27, Fernandez is no spring chicken in rugby terms, but the Montpellier centre has to prove that the Pumas have options in midfield as they plan for the World Cup.
The fact that Fernandez is known to prefer outside half is perhaps not the best omen for a long-term solution.
Juan Martin Hernandez, Argentina
Anyone who watched the performances of Juan Martin Hernandez during the 2007 Rugby World Cup will know that this guy can really play.
Hernandez was majestic as the Pumas took third place in France and secured their highest finish in the tournament.
Injuries saw him miss the 2011 World Cup and club switches have seen him struggle to perform consistently at the same level, though he has shown glimpses of form with French side Racing Metro.
Hernandez missed the Pumas narrow defeat to South Africa in Argentina, but has recovered from injury to reclaim the No. 15 jersey.
Opponents always know that they are in for a difficult afternoon up front against Argentina, but it is in the backs where the Pumas need to find some cutting edge.
Hernandez is their most talented back and must be at his very best to prove that he is still worthy of the starting spot and to give the Pumas any chance of challenging the All Blacks.
Charlie Faumuina, New Zealand
Auckland Blues prop Charlie Faumuina gets the nod at tighthead due to an injury to first-choice Owen Franks, who has problems with his groin.
The All Blacks have shown up pretty well so far under the new scrum laws, albeit against a less-than-formidable Australia front row.
Faumuina now has responsibility for maintaining that set-piece solidity against a side that prides itself on scrummaging. Give the Pumas any sniff of gaining ascendency in the tight and they will exploit it to the full.
Although Faumuina already has nine caps to his name, he has only started for the All Blacks twice before. Saturday's match is the chance for him to pressure Franks for the jersey and prove that he is at the very least the second-best option for Hansen.
Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Argentina
All the talk ahead of this clash has been about the return from injury of Argentina's inspirational captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
The Pumas will need all his experience and renowned warrior spirit if they are going to provide serious opposition in New Zealand.
In terms of the back row, they don't come much tougher or defensively solid that Fernandez Lobbe. The Pumas showed last season that they could compete in New Zealand, and Fernandez Lobbe will be crucial to them repeating that.
Argentina are desperate to continue proving that they belong in the Rugby Championship, especially after getting swept aside 73-13 in their opening clash in South Africa.
Fernandez Lobbe is the heartbeat of this Pumas side and much of the responsibility to prove they are genuine challengers in the Rugby Championship lies on his shoulders.
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