Savea, Smith among All Blacks changes before Argentina match

Associated Press

9/5/2012 4:33:44 PM

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Winger Julian Savea has won a surprise test recall as one of five changes to the All Blacks lineup for their Rugby Championship test against Argentina on Saturday.

Savea scored three tries on his debut against Ireland in June but was dropped after a bumbling performance under the high ball in the second test of that series.

He will play his third test on Saturday as a replacement for left winger Hosea Gear in one of two changes to the All Blacks backline for the match.

Centre Conrad Smith returns after undergoing eye surgery to plug the gap left by the departure of Sonny Bill Williams for Japan. Smith will play his 59th test and will resume his New Zealand record midfield partnership with Ma'a Nonu.

New Zealand's most-capped prop Tony Woodcock returns from a rib injury to play his 88th test in place of Wyatt Crockett who, along with Gear, has dropped out of the match 22.

Brodie Retallick replaces Sam Whitelock at lock and Victor Vito takes over from Liam Messam at blindside flanker. Both Whitelock and Messam have been named on the bench.

Saturday's match is the first between New Zealand and Argentina since the Pumas were added to the former Tri-Nations tournament to form the new, four-nation Rugby Championship.

"It is going to be very physical, especially up front where they are traditionally very strong," All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said.

"We also have immense respect for their backline abilities plus they have one of the best defensive structures in modern rugby. They are always looking to work as a unit to shut you down."

Smith's return in midfield is expected to settle an All Blacks backline which created scoring opportunities but lacked finishing skill in its first two Rugby Championship matches against Australia. The All Blacks won 27-19 in Sydney and 22-0 in Auckland but should have won both matches by greater margins.

New Zealand and Argentina have met in 14 tests since 1985 with the All Blacks winning 13 and drawing one. The All Blacks most recently beat the Pumas 33-10 in the quarterfinals of last year's Rugby World Cup.


New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Keiran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Victor Vito, Brodie Retallick, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Andrew Hore, Charlie Faumuina, Sam Whitelock, Liam Messam, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.