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All Blacks, Pumas focus on mental preparation for Rugby Championships test

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NAPIER, New Zealand - New Zealand and Argentina have both placed strong emphasis on mental preparation for their first meeting of the season in Saturday's Rugby Championships test at Napier.

Argentina has worked to eliminate the errors and lapses of judgement that contributed to their 13-6 and 33-31 losses to South Africa in matches last month that they should have won.

New Zealand will try to avoid the listless performance that resulted in a 12-12 draw with Australia and to reproduce, even improve on, their 51-20 win over the Wallabies a week later.

Rain is forecast on matchday which may impair the All Blacks' ability to replicate the relentless pace they used against Australia and may benefit Argentina's giant forward pack.

Lock Mariano Galarza said the away game against New Zealand will be "the toughest match of the six" Argentina will play in this year's Championships and the Pumas cannot afford the "distractions that cost us dearly" against the Springboks.

"Where you lose focus for two minutes these teams score points so we have to try and not give away the ball and score points whenever we can," he said.

The Pumas' scrum has always been their strength and the All Blacks are preparing for a rugged forward battle.

"These guys hammered South Africa at scrums and it was a bit like them going back in time to what suits them," New Zealand scrum coach Mike Cron said. "The scrum is their DNA, they have an eight-man push with great cohesion, timing and attitude."

"It will give us more of an idea about some of our players like Wyatt Crockett, Dane Coles...and Ben Franks who have not had a lot of international experience. They are new to the sort of scrum the Pumas bring and this will be a sort of litmus test for the guys who play."

New Zealand's counter-attacking game is highly evolved and they have an unmatched ability to return kicks for tries. That adds pressure on the Pumas to ensure their tactical kicking reduces such opportunities.

"They've always been great natural punters of the ball but now they are starting to intertwine that with a smarter strategy of where to kick it," All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster said.

"There weren't a lot of counter-attacking opportunities last week for South Africa so clearly Argentina did a really good job of that. We want to pressure that part of their game."

Foster said Argentina's defensive structure posed a very different challenge to that faced against Australia.

"It's a system we've been aware of and they're very, very good at it, that ability to come up and shut you down and also to push very hard into those outside channels," Foster said.

"It's not the easiest to combat but it's something we've been working on for the last couple of years."

Argentina has yet to win a test in the Rugby Championships and the All Blacks are eager to avoid becoming the first victim.

"I don't like to think it would happen on my watch," veteran centre Conrad Smith said. "But if they have a couple of cracks a year at us, then they will knock us of. It's not something that any All Black side likes to think about."


New Zealand: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Conrad Smith, Ma'a Nonu, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Liam Messam, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Owen Franks, Dane Coles, Wyatt Crockett.

Reserves: Keven Mealamu, Ben Franks, Joe Moody, Jeremy Thrush, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Colin Slade, Malakai Fekitoa.

Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Horacio Agulla, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo, Leonardo Senatore, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Tomas Lavanini, Mariano Galarza, Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (captain), Marcos Ayerza.

Reserves: Matias Cortese, Lucas Noguera Paz, -Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Baez, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Juan Imhoff.

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