Dan Carter is poised to return from injury and Aaron Smith has paid his penance for a discipline breach after the All Blacks last encounter with Argentina in the only changes to the starting line-up from the previous Rugby Championship test against South Africa.
Carter still has to emerge unscathed from a vigorous training session on Friday (NZT) but All Blacks management and medical staff are confident the world's premier first five-eighth has overcame a calf strain that ruled him out of victories against Los Pumas and the Springboks earlier this month.
Providing he passes a final fitness test, the 30-year-old will reach the 90-test milestone at Estadio Ciudad de La Plata on Sunday (NZT) in his first cap against Argentina since the All Blacks last toured the stronghold of South American rugby in 2006.
Carter and rookie halfback Smith will be reunited as the All Blacks optimum scrum-base pairing for the first time since the Bledisloe Cup was retained at Eden Park on August 25.
Smith was dropped from the run-on side to play South Africa in Dunedin for disregarding a team curfew after the All Blacks 21-5 defeat of Los Pumas a week before but made amends by crafting and completing a crucial second-half try against the Springboks.
The 23-year-old has been rooming with captain Richie McCaw in Buenos Aires in the expectation the captain's professionalism would have a positive influence on Smith's in light of his misdemeanour in Wellington.
And the ploy certainly appeared to be having the desired effect.
"When he's going to sleep, it looks like I'm going to sleep as well," he said.
Smith appreciated the opportunity to witness McCaw's preparations for his 111th test even if he was wary of bombarding the skipper with too many questions.
Unusually for a halfback, the first-season All Black has been fairly muted.
"If there's something you want to ask you think if you're in your room you want your own time and that. If his head's in a book I'm not going to go 'Oi, stop reading and talk to me'."
While the restoration of Carter and Smith was anticipated at the expense of Aaron Cruden and Piri Weepu, there is a significant change on the reserves bench where specialist openside flanker Sam Cane makes his tournament debut as loose forward cover.
Cane has been earmarked as a potential successor to McCaw when the inspirational World Cup winner takes a six-month sabbatical after the All Blacks' northern hemisphere-ending test at Twickenham in December.
The versatile Victor Vito makes way for the 20-year-old, a switch governed by McCaw's announcement last weekend that he would take an extended break in a bid to prolong his remarkable career through to New Zealand's defence of the Webb Ellis Trophy in 2015.
In other alterations to the substitutes chosen to add value against the Springboks Ben Smith claims the utility outside back role from Tamati Ellison while Beauden Barrett drops out to accommodate Cruden's demotion.
The All Blacks can claim the inaugural Rugby Championship by extending their 15-test unbeaten record against Argentina, whose best result is a memorable 21-21 draw in Buenos Aires in 1985.
That stalemate highlights the difficulty New Zealand has had beating Los Pumas on home soil - in 2001 they required a late try from Scott Robertson to leave the capital with a 24-20 triumph while the 25-19 success in 2006 was only achieved because their defence countered sustained attacks from Los Pumas in the dying stages.
All Blacks: Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Daniel Carter, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Andrew Hore, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Charlie Faumuina, Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane, Piri Weepu, Aaron Cruden, Ben Smith.
Los Pumas: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Gonzalo Camacho, Marcelo Bosch, Santiago Fernandez, Horacio Agulla, Juan Martin Hernandez, Martin Landajo, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Julio Farias Cabello, Patricio Albacete, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu, Rodrigo Roncero. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Marcos Ayerza, Tomas Vallejos, Tomas Leonardi, Nicolas Vergallo, Martin Rodriguez, Juan Imhoff.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Kick off: 12.10pm Sunday (NZT)
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is Richie McCaw now the greatest All Black of all time?