WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga will start a test for the first time and scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi could make his debut from the bench for New Zealand in Saturday’s Rugby Championship game Argentina in Nelson.
The 24-year-old Mo’unga has starred in the Super Rugby for the Christchurch-based Crusaders and was seen as the form No. 10 at the start of the international season, challenging World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett.
Barrett saw off his challenge when he guided the All Blacks to 38-13 and 40-12 wins over Australia in the first two matches of the Championship, scoring four tries in the second game.
Head coach Steve Hansen on Thursday gave Mo’unga a chance to step up from Super Rugby and test his skills at international level.
Hansen made nine changes to the lineup which beat Australia in Auckland to secure the Bledisloe Cup for the 16th straight year.
Five of those changes — one positional — are in the backline and four among the forwards, including backrow alterations on both sides of the scrum.
Scrumhalf T.J. Perenara and inside center Ngani Laumape will start on either side of Mo’unga. Nehe Milner Skudder is on the right wing for his first test since October, allowing Ben Smith to revert to fullback.
Karl Tu’inukuafe starts his sixth test at loosehead prop in place of the injured Joe Moody. Scott Barrett joins Brodie Retallick in the second row, while flankers Ardie Savea and Shannon Frizell accompany captain Kieran Read in the backrow.
“This is not a reflection on Argentina but rather a desire by us to grow the experience and depth of our squad,” Hansen said of the changes. “We also know that if we don’t use the whole squad across a long season, we’ll run out of steam later in the year.
“The high expectation we place on ourselves remains the same, regardless of who we’ve selected. The All Blacks jersey demands this.”
Argentina is coming off a victory over South Africa in Mendoza last weekend.
“We’re very aware of the Argentinian challenge,” Hansen said. “We know they’re hungry for test success against the All Blacks and, after their recent win over South Africa, they’ll be coming here confident.”
The Pumas announced four changes to the squad that beat the Springboks.
Martin Landajo returns at scrumhalf in place of Gonzalo Bertranou and Tomas Cubelli joins the reserves. Jeronimo de la Fuente will start at inside center in place of Bautista Ezcurra, who is on the bench.
In the forwards Santiago Garcia Botta will start at loosehead prop in place of Juan Figallo and Tomas Lezana will start at blindside flanker for the first time in this season’s Rugby Championship, replacing Pablo Matera.
There are three new faces among the reserves: Juan Pablo Zeiss, Julian Montoya and Gaston Cortes.
Argentina is yet to beat New Zealand in 26 attempts.