All Blacks have worn criticism, now it's about their response

All Blacks react to their defeat by South Africa in Wellington, 2018 MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images

This week is a massive game for the All Blacks, not only in terms of the Rugby Championship but also in relation to their future aspirations. In many ways it is probably the toughest battle they will have in 2018.

Coming off the loss against a South African side that was certainly up for the battle and brought a lot to it, New Zealand got the tickle up other All Blacks team have had in the past. Now it's about how they respond.

This Argentina outfit is certainly dangerous. Last time New Zealand played them, the Pumas threw the ball around. They played well and will be 20 percent better at home, brimming with confidence after the victory over Australia.

On Argentinian soil the Pumas are a different beast. There is one clear focus that they must get right and that is the scrum. And clearly the All Blacks have targeted it and said that is where they want to take them on. New Zealand certainly dominated them there in Nelson.

That is the game so far as I am concerned. If Argentina can get parity at the set-piece, it will be a hell of a battle.

It is going to be interesting to see what side Steve Hansen chooses. Several young players were given starts in the last game against Argentina in Nelson, but the general Beauden Barrett will be back. It will also be interesting to see the midfield selections; Ryan Crotty is back in consideration while Anton Lienert-Brown and Jack Goodhue are available at outside centre. Then we may also see Sonny Bill Williams off the bench.

It will be a good measure of the All Blacks' temperament. They've copped a lot of flak from that South African game over a failure to take a drop goal, and the unusual amount of mistakes they made. They gave a lot of possession away in crucial moments that they normally wouldn't have done; they looked a bit flustered at times and they possibly forced too much.

The All Blacks traditionally squeeze the opposition and then pounce when the opportunity presents itself. You only have to go back to the two victories over Australia to see that. To throw an intercept pass is against the grain, it's just not in their nature, nor is it to throw a quick lineout to the midfield when you're under pressure.

That's more of an inexperience thing. Anton Lienert-Brown and Jordie Barrett, the players who made those respective mistakes, are young. They will learn from that experience.

The All Blacks' experience levels will take a hit this week in the absence of captain Kieran Read. But Sam Whitelock has stepped up in the past and it is not like the All Blacks haven't been without Read in 2018 either; he missed the entire June series after all. Read will be a loss but take nothing away from Sam Whitelock, he's a good leader and there is respect there for him throughout the squad.

Whitelock is a two-time captain of a Super Rugby-winning side and there is enough experience in the team to understand the threats Argentina will pose.

Buenos Aires is a pretty hostile place to go to and some of the players who haven't been involved in a Test match over there will find out about how passionate the home fans are. They'll get into it and the noise will be absolutely deafening. The stadium is sold out and it is going to be an interesting occasion.

There's no doubt the loss to South Africa's victory over New Zealand was good for the world game because it showed the All Blacks were vulnerable and that it is not just a one-horse race all the time. I think South Africa have been on the rise. We've seen that in Super Rugby with the likes of the Sharks and the Lions, and we have talked about that earlier in the season.

It is a really good thing, a real positive. What South Africa have to do now is back it up. They will have obviously taken confidence from that win. There is a lot of emphasis on how this sets them up for the World Cup; that's great so long as that talk isn't coming from the players.

If it is coming from the media and the fans you take that with a grain of salt. Every team that plays at that level, including the All Blacks, know that you are only ever as good as your last game. If your head gets too big it is only one bounce of the ball that can deflate that. As we saw in Wellington, the difference between winning and losing can be as simple as a drop goal.

It was interesting to read about World Rugby's vice president Agustin Pichot outlining a prospective annual tournament each November that would take the place of traditional rugby tours, a competition held in alternate hemispheres.

My concern would be not so much on the field but off it; specifically all the benefits to be had from touring parties travelling with their teams. What would it mean for Lions tours? What about French supporters coming out to New Zealand with their team because they want to see the country? Conversely, what about New Zealand, Australian or South African supporters wanting to go to France or Ireland because they want to see the country?

There's a lot of recreational and social money that goes in behind these tours that has significant impact on the communities and countries affected. That could kill the concept because it is all about filling the stadiums. Would you do that if the semifinals and finals involved teams that weren't from the country hosting the games?

The other consideration is would New Zealand fans be happy only seeing the All Blacks on home soil once every two years, outside of the Rugby Championship? Another consideration is whether there should be a promotion/relegation system.

My feeling would be there is a lot of discussion on that subject to be had yet.