All Blacks v Argentina: Rotation likely as NZ brace for world champion Springboks' challenge

All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree has hinted their return match against Argentina will be a chance to rest frontliners and promote squad members who have barely played during their 2021 international campaign.

One of the highlights of the Bledisloe Cup and Rugby Championship schedule so far has been newfound riches among the loose forwards, which has now evolved into one of the deepest areas of their squad, even without injured captain Sam Cane.

That depth was on full display during the 39-0 shutout of the Pumas on the Gold Coast, where Luke Jacobson, Akira Ioane and Dalton Papalii - with Ethan Blackadder emerging off the bench - provided yet another combination capable of footing it at test level.

Muddying those waters is the return of stand-in captain Ardie Savea, who's likely to return from concussion protocols this week, while once regular starters Hoskins Sotutu and Shannon Frizell also await their next chance to don the black jersey.

During a stretch of five tests in as many weeks - followed by two more months in Europe - Plumtree says which combinations will start over the next few months will be dictated by a mix of rest-and-rotation and a 'horses for courses' approach, where they'll need to dip deep into their selection well.

"[Selectors Ian Foster, Grant Fox] and I will be having some conversations around that," says assistant coach John Plumtree. 

"We've got the Argies this week again and the Boks times two. Physically, it's going to be a pretty tall order over the next few weeks.

"We're going to have to use our men that we've got to make sure that, certainly going into those Bok games, that we've got plenty of energy."

Next weekend's rematch with the Pumas seems the perfect opportunity to allow some of their first-line players to recuperate, before heading into successive tests against notoriously combative South Africa - games that may well determine the Rugby Championship victors.

Other key players are also likely to return from injury this week, including hooker Codie Taylor, who also missed Sunday's test due to concussion, after their emphatic win over the Wallabies in the final Bledisloe Cup test at Perth.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu is also tracking well in his comeback from a minor groin strain and should be available for selection this week, easing the loss of Sam Whitelock, after Queensland COVID-19 restrictions squashed his hope of rejoining the squad for the final South Africa test.

Ofa Tuungafasi will also be back in the fold this week. The prop hasn't taken the field since the end of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, when he opted out of the final to undergo surgery for his troublesome knee.

Meanwhile, fellow front-rower Ethan de Groot is "progressing really well" with his recovery from a neck strain.

"Certainly, going into the first Springboks game, which is not far away, we're going to have to make sure that all of that 23 we select, physically, are in great shape," Plumtree adds.

"We've got some boys out here who haven't had a lot of opportunity and those are the conversations we'll be having over the next 24 hours."

By contrast, the selectors could be sweating over the fitness of first-five Beauden Barrett, who limped from the field on the Gold Coast with a recurrence of his ongoing calf issue.

After his standout performance, Barrett played down the issue as "old age", which Foster and co will hope is the case.

But Richie Mo'unga - who'll enter quarantine in Queensland on Tuesday, after staying home for the birth of his second child - likely won't be available until the final Springboks test, leaving Damian McKenzie as the only other option, until they depart for the US and Europe.

Join us at 10pm (NZ time) Saturday for live updates of the All Blacks against Argentina