WELLINGTON The All Blacks are under no illusions about the challenge Argentina will provide on Saturday, captain Kieran Read said, despite the Pumas flying in "under the radar" for their Rugby Championship clash in Hamilton.
World champions New Zealand have taken their game to a new level this season after retaining the Webb Ellis trophy in England and comfortably dispatching beaten World Cup finalists Australia in their first two Rugby Championship clashes.
The Pumas lost to South Africa in their opening game in Nelspruit before they recorded their second win against the Springboks on Aug. 27 -- a 26-24 victory in Salta -- and Read said Argentina were a team growing in confidence.
"They have come in under the radar," Read told reporters at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Friday. "(But) they certainly got a bit of confidence about them.
"They have improved since joining the competition (and) ... they have run us close a couple of times last year, so it's going to be a big test for us."
The Pumas have certainly run New Zealand close.
At last year's World Cup, the All Blacks needed 65 minutes to break the Pumas' resistance before they claimed a 26-16 pool stage victory.
Few northern hemisphere pundits at the time gave the Pumas the credit they deserved, instead believing the All Blacks were off the pace.
However, Read said it was highly likely the visitors had improved even further with most of the national side playing in Super Rugby for the Jaguares.
"I guess a lot of that team has played for the Jaguares as well all this year so the combinations are strong," Read said.
"They are a quality side and right up there in world rugby."
Read did not expect the same off-the-ball, niggly tactics employed by Michael Cheika's Wallabies side two weeks ago from the Pumas, though his players had said earlier in the week they would not rise to the bait as they had in Wellington.
"They might see that as a way to get into us but we've probably learnt a lesson from that Aussie test to get on with it quicker and play footy," All Blacks hooker Dane Coles told reporters. "If they bring that we've got to adapt.
"I learnt a good lesson last week and probably got a bit fired up and carried on a bit much. I play with an edge but I always go out there to play footy.
"I won't back down and I'm pretty sure they won't back down."
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)