17 Jul 2015

Still worthy of the black jersey?

6:42 pm on 17 July 2015

OPINION: Friday's Test could prove more costly for some All Blacks than others.

The match against Argentina at AMI Stadium in Christchurch is the first in the Rugby Championship and, arguably, the first real test in the lead-up to the Rugby World Cup.

Israel Dagg and Andy Ellis didn't have strong performances in the test against Samoa in Apia.

Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg failed to live up to expectations in the game in Apia Photo: Photosport

It's in stark contrast to last week, when the All Blacks battled sticky, humid heat as well as a brutal Samoan pack in Apia.

The chilly Christchurch evening should suit the home side, with 13 of the 23-man squad representing the Crusaders and Highlanders this Super Rugby season.

Having never lost at the new AMI Stadium in the two Tests that have been played there, expectations are on the All Blacks to keep that 100 percent record are high.

But, for a handful of All Blacks, it may be their last chance to prove to the selectors that they're worthy of the black jersey.

In the backs are Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg, who both got a start in last week's game against Samoa but underperformed in their roles.

Although it was Ellis' first cap as an All Black since 2011, his speed at the breakdown got caught out numerous times by the Samoan forward pack.

Israel Dagg needs to find from quickly for the All Blacks with the World Cup squad named at the end of August.

Israel Dagg is up against stiff competition for the fullback spot. Photo: Photosport

With TJ Perenara taking the starting position against Argentina and Aaron Smith waiting in the wings to get back into the No.9 spot, this could very well be Ellis' last shot.

As for Dagg, he's up against stiff competition. There's no doubt that Ben Smith, returning from his Super Rugby Championship win and arguably the world's best fullback, is New Zealand's first choice No.15.

With the likes of Hurricanes' utility Nehe Milner-Skudder and Highlanders' right wing Waisake Naholo waiting to prove themselves, there's little room for Dagg, who is a specialist fullback.

A home game for Ellis and Dagg will surely be beneficial for them both, but they now need to step up their game if they want the attention of the likes of Hansen.

The same cannot be said for some of the All Blacks forward pack however: the old guard of Tony Woodcock and Keven Mealamu don't call Christchurch home, but they will still need to put a good performance together.

Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock playing for the All Blacks, 2012.

Veterans Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock need to ensure tip-top form in tonight's game Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Between them, they have 235 caps, an incredible feat on its own, but while experience is crucial, so too is form.

Sitting on the bench this week is debutant Codie Taylor, who'll be hoping to put in a strong performance as hooker in front of his home crowd.

Codie Taylor

The future looks bright for up-and-coming Crusaders' Codie Taylor Photo: PHOTOSPORT

While Taylor may not have had as much game time as Mealamu, his surprising speed and solid tackling ability will put him in good stead against a somewhat inexperienced Pumas side.

As for Woodcock, it's only a matter of time before the 34-year-old runs out of steam, and with the size and strength of Wyatt Crockett at the scrum, he has a lot to prove against the Pumas' front row.

Last week's game against Samoa highlighted the generally slow start the All Blacks have had to their season. They'll need to improve their discipline at the breakdown and reduce the number of handling errors they had if they're to get a win against Argentina.

While Samoa put up a great fight in Apia, Argentina have proven over the past three years that they're a team on the rise.

Known more for their aggression and passion on the field, their ball control and discipline has improved vastly and could prove challenging if they can slow the All Blacks' ball down, as the Samoans were able to do.

All that aside, Argentina are without a handful of first-choice players, which should make the game a little easier for the All Blacks.

Julian Savea scores a try in New Zealand's test match against Argentina in Napier on Saturday.

Julian Savea scored a stellar try in last year's Test match against Argentina in Napier. Photo: PHOTOSPORT / Andrew Cornaga

The last time the two sides met in New Zealand was at McLean Park in Napier last year, where the All Blacks walked away with a 28-9 win.

Although there are a couple of new faces in the All Blacks line-up, expect a similar score at AMI Stadium.

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