Wellington – The challenges are coming thick and fast for Argentina as they continue to show they belong with the southern hemisphere's finest in the Rugby Championship.
The Pumas earned praise after Saturday's 21-5 defeat by the All Blacks in which they held the home side's fast-tempo game at bay until the 66th minute when left wing Julian Savea crossed for New Zealand's first try.
Right wing Cory Jane then crossed in the opposite corner some six minutes later to seal the win and ensure the All Blacks remained top of the table half way through the competition.
However, Argentina offered a reality check for the hosts and together with their 16-16 draw against South Africa in Mendoza two weeks ago, they have already made a big impression.
Coach Santiago Phelan refused to get too far ahead of himself though as his side turn their thoughts to a clash with the Wallabies next week on the Gold Coast.
“This game gave us confidence because of the way the players gave 100 percent and that is very important for us,” Phelan told reporters. “We are looking forward to Australia ...(but) every game is different.
“We have to keep on improving because we are playing the best teams in the world and we have to keep working to have a good game.”
Argentina were admitted to the expanded Tri-Nations this year after intense lobbying, following their third-place finish at the 2007 World Cup, where they beat hosts France twice during the tournament.
Those performances were not one-offs, with the Pumas regularly beating European sides in Argentina, pushing England last year in the World Cup pool phase and stubbornly resisting the All Blacks before losing their quarter-final 33-10.
While Italy are still struggling for consistency 12 years after they entered the Six Nations, Argentina's recent performances have highlighted how dangerous they can, and will be, in the competition.
The All Blacks entered Saturday's match well aware they were unlikely to repeat the 93-8 thrashing they posted last time the two sides clashed in Wellington in 1997, and the game duly showed those one-sided victories are things of the past.
“I wouldn't say it has been easy,” Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said when asked whether they had adapted to regular competition against top quality opposition more easily than the Italians.
“Everyone from the coach, the union, the players, we have done a lot of work to be here,” Fernandez Lobbe added.
“We know the level of the opposition in these six games (of the championship) so we prepared according to that.
“We are happy with that but we want to keep on improving.
“Our goal is to match these three teams because we want to get better and make everyone proud of this Argentinian team.” – Reuters