As learning experiences go, Luke Romano's introduction to Argentine rugby was a painful one.
The All Blacks lock is considered an excellent ball carrier, especially out wide where his surprising pace and good hands can put his team on the front foot or spark a breakout.
In Wellington a few weeks ago, however, he found himself going backwards and there wasn't a lot he could do about it. A keen pig hunter, he probably discovered what his four-legged targets feel like after they have been hassled and harried by his dogs.
"I'm still finding my feet at this level and not having played them before I wasn't too sure about how they would defend or what sort of techniques they like to employ so I'm obviously a lot better off going into this match after playing them once before," he said. "There were a few times when I ended up on my back.
"I think what makes them hard is that they're not big, big men like the South Africans, but they hit just as hard. After the last game in Wellington, I was pretty sore. It took me two or three days to recover from that."
Worse is probably in store for Romano and Co on Sunday (NZT) when they take on Argentina in the Rugby Championship match at La Plata, near Buenos Aires.
A crowd of about 50,000 will roar the Pumas on to new heights and the hits will keep on coming. After a draw against South Africa in Mendoza and a close defeat to Australia on the Gold Coast, the Argentine supporters are daring to dream of a first victory over the All Blacks.
It would be a sensation if they did and the crowd's passion would go to a new level, which Romano is aware of.
He revealed that he had gained an insight into the passion of Argentine supporters soon after the All Blacks arrived here when he flicked on the TV in his room and a football match between two local teams caught his eye.
"On Sunday I was watching a game on TV and only 12 minutes into the game there was a riot in the stands and the security guards were getting bashed up. If it only takes them 12 minutes to get themselves into that sort of frenzy, it's going to be interesting."
He said the Pumas' differences weren't confined to their defence or passion of their supporters.
"They scrummage very differently. The Springboks are a lot like us, they like to get the hit and keep chasing whereas the Argentines, if they miss the hit, they're very good at shifting their feet and loading again so you've got to be careful of that. And they stay in the fight for the whole scrum. We've had it before where if you get on top of a team, their scrum after maybe two or three seconds the battle is over but the Argentines, even if they're going backwards, if you take the foot off the accelerator they will just come back and we'll end up going backwards.
"It's a big ask to win over here. The previous All Blacks teams who have been here haven't won by a lot. The Argentines, they'll be really fizzing because they've come close to beating Australia and drew with South Africa here. They'll be trying to get their first win of the Championship. It's a big test."
* Patrick McKendry flew to Argentina courtesy of LAN Airlines (www.lan.com).
- APNZBy Patrick McKendry Email Patrick