Mass backline changes, Isa returns at No.8: Ledesma names Pumas team for must-win Tri Nations Test against All Blacks

Tri Nations
by Christy Doran

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma has made sweeping changes for his side's return Tri Nations Test against the All Blacks on Saturday in Newcastle.

It was only a fortnight ago that the Pumas shocked the world by beating the All Blacks for the first time. The victory made all the more remarkable given the journey throughout the COVID pandemic, which only saw the squad come together as an entire group a week out from their opening match of 2020 and the tough conditions that they had experienced over the past three months.

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In total, the Argentine great, who served as Michael Cheika's scrum coach for three years with the Wallabies, has made 10 changes with some tactical and others forced.

Hooker Julian Montoya, lock Guido Petti, back-rowers Pablo Matera and Marcos Kremer and fly-half Nicolas Sanchez are the only five to have retained their starting XV spots.

Of note, Facundo Isa makes his return at No.8 after making his return from injury off the bench during the 15-15 draw against the Wallabies last weeken.

Up front, Montoya is joined by props Mayco Vivas and Santiago Medrano.

In the backline, Ledesma has the luxury of calling on a lot of experience for the crucial Test.

In particular, Jeronimo de la Fuente returns at inside centre while Santiago Cordero, Ramiro Moyano and Emiliano Boffelli provide plenty of pace and skill out wide.

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The Pumas are the only unbeaten side in the Tri Nations but they must win at least one of their next two Tests to likely win their first southern hemisphere major trophy.

Even if they don't win, Ledesma's men won't want to give away a bonus point to give themselves a chance of playing for the trophy a week later.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster has kept an unchanged backline while shuffling his forward pack.

Foster, whose job could be on the line if the All Blacks were to lose three consecutive Tests for the first time since 1998, said that his side would head into their final match of 2020 with their eyes wide open.

"We've had a great week building into what will be a vital Test for us," he said.

"It's exciting in the sense that we have the opportunity to redeem ourselves after our last game, and we also have the opportunity to win the Tri Nations.

"There's a real determination in the team to perform well, not only for ourselves, but also our families and friends at home and our country."

"Argentina have shown two weeks in a row that they can compete at the highest level. They've grown as a nation, they've got good size and a lot of skill, so we're certainly going in with our eyes wide open."

PUMAS (1-15): Mayco Vivas, Julian Montoya, Santiago Medrano, Guido Petti, Lucas Paulos, Pablo Matera (c), Marcos Kremer, Facundo Isa, Felipe Ezcurra, Nicolas Sanchez, Santiago Cordero, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Juan Cruz Mallia, Ramiro Moyano, Emiliano Boffelli

RESERVES: Santiago Socino, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Lucio Sordoni, Matias Alemanno, Santiago Grondona, Gonzalo Bertranou, Santiago Carreras, Lucas Mensa

ALL BLACKS (1-15): Joe Moody, Dane Coles, Nepo Laulala, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock, Akira Ioane, Sam Cane (c), Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith, Richie Mo'unga, Caleb Clarke, Jack Goodhue,, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Beauden Barrett

RESERVES: Codie Taylor, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Tyrel Lomax, Patrick Tuipulotu, Hoskins Sotutu, TJ Perenara, Rieko Ioane, Will Jordan