Pumas no longer 'powder puff'
INTERVIEW: Argentina are no longer the 'easy beats' of the Rugby Championship and New Zealand will show them the necessary respect.
The All Blacks are hosting Los Pumas in Hamilton in Round Three of the Southern Hemisphere championship on Saturday.
And most of the All Blacks feel the South Americans will pose a different and more dangerous threat than New Zealand's trans-Tasman rivals, Australia, did in the opening two weeks.
It took Argentina 17 Tests and two years to get their first win in the Rugby Championship - a 21-17 victory over Wallabies in Mendoza in 2014.
That has been followed by a first-ever victory (37-25) over the Springboks in Durban last year and a 26-24 triumph over the Boks in Salta a fortnight ago.
New Zealand - on a 13-Test winning streak, including 42-8 and 29-9 of the Wallabies in the opening rounds of the Rugby Championship this year - are still fancied to knock over the Pumas.
However, the players are cautiously optimistic about the outing in Hamilton.
"We spoke about keeping our feet on the ground," fullback Ben Smith said.
"This Argentinean team is a real threat.
"You saw that in the World Cup last year [where they beat then Six Nations champions Ireland in the quarterfinal] and two weeks ago they tipped over South Africa.
"We have to show them respect in how we prepare."
Other players also suggested Argentina would be offering a different challenge for the All Blacks.
Flank Sam Cane and lock Brodie Retallick said they have their feet well and truly on the ground and were not getting ahead of themselves in their quest to regain the Championship title this season.
Cane said the Pumas could well have been coming to Hamilton with two wins over South Africa and not just one, and that was evidence enough of their increased stature in the game.
While the All Blacks knew more about the Argentinians as a result of their increased contact, they still represented a different challenge because they played the game slightly differently, Cane said.
"They have come a long way [since joining the Championship in 2012] and going from Super Rugby to internationals I wasn't quite what they were going to turn up with. However, under their coach [Daniel Hourcade] in the national side they are humming.
"Once they get that ball moving and their off-loads are some of the best in the world," he said.
Retallick said Argentina played it differently in the forwards and liked to hold the ball in the scrum while the All Blacks liked to clear it quickly.
It was a case of getting on top of them and avoiding the penalties that could keep them in the game.