New Zealand coach Steve Hansen believes his side's Rugby Championship clash with Argentina on Saturday is a must win game.
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has described his side's Rugby Championship clash with Argentina on Saturday as a must win game.
Hansen's side line up to face los Pumas in La Plata this weekend sitting atop the tournament table, four points clear of second-placed South Africa.
The All Blacks face what many view as the title-deciding fixture with the Sprinboks at Ellis Park next week, and the coach aims to emerge from Argentina with a bonus point victory over their plucky hosts.
With the Boks widely expected to triumph over Australia on Saturday in Cape Town, the Kiwis' battle with the Pumas takes on added significance.
“This is a huge challenge for us,” said Hansen.
“It will be the defining moment of the Rugby Championship this year. If we are to have a chance of retaining the title, we have got to win this game.
“We must try to win it well.”
Hansen does not, however, envisage a repeat of the rout his side enjoyed in this fixture a year ago, running out victors by a crushing margin of 54-15.
“We caught them unawares last year and we will not enjoy that luxury Saturday,” he added.
“Argentina are a better side this year than last, although I don't think they have found the game they want to play yet.
“We must pay them a huge amount of respect and the ideal way to do that is to prepare the best we possibly can.”
Meanwhile, Hansen's Argentine counterpart, Santiago Phelan, has stressed that his side are improving with every Championship game.
Still seeking their maiden tournament victory, the Pumas recovered from an opening-round drubbing at the hands of the Sprinboks to turn in a string of impressive performances.
Indeed, Phelan's side can be justly disappointed at not avenging that defeat a week later, nor overcoming the Wallabies in Perth a fortnight ago, where they went down by a single point.
“We are going from low to high this season, improving game by game,” explained Phelan.
“The pressure of facing the top three teams in the world is extreme, but we are slowly but surely adapting to the challenge.
“New Zealand are a complete team – the best in the world. They play with such speed and intensity. We have prepared well and hope for the best.”