Mo'unga to make 1st start for All Blacks vs. Argentina
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga will start for the first time and scrumhalf Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi could make his debut from the bench after New Zealand named its team to play Argentina in the Rugby Championship in Nelson on Saturday.
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 said on Thursday it was now time for Mo'unga to step up from Super Rugby and test his skills at international level.
Hansen has 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.
T.J. Perenara will start beside Mo'unga at scrumhalf while Ngani Laumape will be outside him at inside center. 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, where flanker Ardie Savea and Shannon Frizell accompany captain Kieran Read.
Hansen said the changes did not mean the All Blacks were taking Argentina lightly.
"This is not a reflection on Argentina but rather a desire by us to grow the experience and depth of our squad," he said. "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.
"We'll need to step up with our own response and be better than we were in Auckland. We'll need to concentrate on setting a strong foundation throughout the 80 minutes, particularly in our set pieces and our strike plays, along with our defense."
Argentina is yet to beat New Zealand in 26 attempts.
New Zealand: Ben Smith, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Jack Goodhue, Ngani Laumape, Waisake Naholo, Richie Mo'unga, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi; Kieran Read (captain), Ardie Savea, Shannon Frizell, Scott Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Karl Tu'inukuafe. Replacements: Nathan Harris, Tim Perry, Ofa Tuungafasi, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown.