Hooker Keven Mealamu says the All Black pack will face their biggest challenge of the year against Argentina on Saturday.
After a spirited cohesive performance in Wellington a fortnight ago, Mealamu expects the Pumas pack to up the ante on home soil and provide a challenge greater than that of the Springboks in Soweto next weekend.
"For us I think it's right up there as a forward pack," Mealamu told reporters in Buenos Aires.
"Argentina have really set the benchmark so for us to be able to play them at home, it's the biggest challenge we'll face this year definitely."
Mealamu is one of a handful of veterans who last toured Argentina in 2006 when the All Blacks held on for a tense 25-19 victory at Velez Sarsfield Stadium.
"I can remember the game quite vividly, hearing the chanting of the crowd was amazing," Mealamu recalled.
"In Argentina it's like they grow another leg, they're so much more confident at home and their passion goes to another level when they're playing on front of their own people. I remember seeing that intensity for pretty much the whole game."
Mealamu said the All Black pack will be out to prove a point against the Pumas after failing to fire on all cylinders thus far in the Rugby Championship.
"To be blunt we've been adequate," said Mealamu.
"We've been able to provide a bit a ball but we haven't been where we want to be. As an All Black forward we want to come off the field feeling like we've done well and we've been able to get on top of opposition.
"It feels, maybe, in the last couple of weeks we haven't been able to do that."
Mealamu admitted that the pack has struggled to return to their usual lofty standards without experienced heads like Brad Thorn and Jerome Kaino.
"They [Thorn and Kaino] left a big hole, they're guys with a lot of experience in the jersey and their presence on the field has been huge so it's a new pack finding its way at the moment," he said.
Mealamu, who is set to make his 97th appearance for the All Blacks this weekend, is the most experienced forward in the squad behind skipper Richie McCaw and said he would be proud to take over the captaincy when McCaw takes a six-month sabbatical next year.
"If that's what the All Blacks need then I'll definitely put my hand up and want to do a good job as well," said Mealamu.
"Skip's [McCaw] been a big part of how this team functions and it's a successful way as well so I don't think much will change.
"There's a lot of experience in our team and there's a few guys that can definitely step up and some good leaders in the team that could do the job.
"It's a tough gig. I think we're very lucky to have such a good platform, that we can go out and play well and still lead the team at the same time.
"It's something that you'll always cherish and probably one of the toughest jobs that you could do out there."
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