Napier, New Zealand - Argentina have never beaten the All Blacks but their clashes against the Springboks last month showed they have sharp claws and are getting better at flexing them, New Zealand assistant coach Ian Foster said on Tuesday.
The Pumas were beaten 13-6 in Pretoria in the first week of the Rugby Championship and had their first win in the competition in sight in Salta in round two, only for a late Morne Steyn penalty to give the Springboks a 33-31 victory.
Those performances showed how far the South Americans had developed since first joining the top table of southern hemisphere rugby and illustrated another significant improvement this year, Foster said.
“They're knocking on the door each year and, having looked through the tapes of those two games, they're a dramatically improved side from last year,” he told reporters in Napier.
“I don't think even giving South Africa a scare (in Salta) is the right way to describe it. They were in control of that game and just lost it in the last few minutes.
“They've shown they can play and ... when they get that right, they will knock someone over.”
The Pumas joined the championship in 2012 and despite some impressive performances have yet to win their first match, their best result to date being a 16-16 draw with the Springboks in 2012.
Pundits were starting to express concern that if the Pumas did not claim a victory soon, questions would be raised as to the value of their involvement.
Their performances this season, however, suggest they have moved their game on under coach Daniel Hourcade.
Long considered a side leaning on a dominant scrum with combative loose forwards and a kicking flyhalf, Foster thinks the Pumas have developed a better all round game.
“They have expanded their repertoire and the pictures we have been seeing is they have a desire to offload more,” he added.
“There is a bit more continuity to their game and are quite happy to shift the ball away from the forwards if the situation beckons.”
They had also varied their tactical kicking game away from simply punting it as far as they could downfield.
“Instead of just kicking it long and high, they're a bit more thoughtful,” added Foster, who expected his back three to be tested at McLean Park.
“There weren't too many counter-attack opportunities for South Africa last week so clearly Argentina have done a good job on that.”
Foster was not concerned that the poor weather battering Napier in the buildup to the test would bring back memories of the atrocious conditions the All Blacks faced in their 12-12 draw with the Wallabies in the first week of the competition.
“The rain is always a leveller,” the former flyhalf added. “We saw that in Sydney when it was very wet and our skill level dropped to such an extent that it made that game a real bun fight.
“We started to slow down everything that we did and that means your attack gets nullified.
“It has been good training in the wet so hopefully we will go well.” – Reuters