September 8, 2018 / 11:26 AM / in a month

Hansen's gamble pays off as rookie players repay his faith

NELSON, New Zealand (Reuters) - All Blacks coach Steve Hansen’s gamble to give some of his less-experienced players a chance to test themselves paid off when his side overcame a combative Argentina to win their Rugby Championship clash 46-24 on Saturday.

Rugby Union - Rugby Championship - New Zealand vs Argentina - Trafalgar Park, Nelson, New Zealand - September 8, 2018 - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen laughs as the window in front of him is cleaned during the match. REUTERS/Ross Setford

Hansen had made seven changes to the side that thrashed the Wallabies 40-12 two weeks ago and gave flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, loose forward Shannon Frizell and prop Karl Tu’inukuafe their first starts as he looked ahead to next year’s Rugby World Cup.

Centre Jack Goodhue was playing just his fourth test.

Both Frizell and Tu’inukuafe seized their opportunities with both hands, with the blindside flanker rampaging through the midfield off short passes from his fellow forwards, playing a full 80 minutes and finishing with a late try.

“I thought he played really well,” Hansen said of the 24-year-old. “He got to a point there where he could have gone either way but he got his second wind there and put himself forward just when we needed him to step up to the plate.”

Tu’inukuafe, who was a late call-up to the squad for the June series against France due to injury, overpowered Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, who was heavily penalised by referee Pascal Gauzerre, which gave the All Blacks momentum.

The 23-year-old Goodhue, who made his debut in the third test against France, also looked like he had been playing test rugby for years rather than weeks and is fast looming as the team’s first-choice centre.

The All Blacks had to deal with two early injuries with lock Brodie Retallick (arm) and midfield back Ngani Laumape (knee) being replaced within seconds of each other in the 10th minute.

Hansen said the way the team, especially Mo’unga, had rallied to deal with the reshuffles and then snuff out the Pumas’ pressure had been most heartening for him looking ahead to next year’s tournament in Japan.

“They experienced something they haven’t before. It’s big step up from Super Rugby,” Hansen said.

“We kept letting them (Argentina) back into it. It’s a good lesson for our group... There was a period there where we didn’t touch the ball for 20 minutes.

“We let them have one try and it could have been two or three (so)... what pleased me the most was the mental fortitude: when we got put under pressure we stayed in the fight and didn’t panic.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Clare Fallon

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