Rugby Championship: All Blacks vs Argentina - what we learned

OPINION: The All Blacks' contest against Argentina played out in a fashion that's beginning to become familiar in ties between these sides – the Pumas bringing their best and sticking in the match before ultimately being outrun by NZ through the final stanza.

The All Blacks line-up had a slightly ramshackle look about it after a slew of early injuries, but they adjusted well to consolidate their place at the top of the Rugby Championship standings against the plucky South Americans.

So, what can we take away from a memorable night in Nelson?

Shannon Frizzell is the truth

The selectors have done it again with the unearthing of another gem in Shannon Frizell, who used his first test start to host his very own coming-out party at his adopted Trafalgar Park home.

The Tasman flanker was omni-present from the opening blast of the whistle - enveloping attackers, destroying rucks, then popping up a phase later and injecting himself into a backline move. It was remarkable viewing.

His link play with the backs was hugely effective, where he'd range wide, suck in defenders, make metres after contact and still have the nous to find an offload, creating plenty of space for the outside backs to operate.

He even nabbed himself a richly-deserved try, throwing up the fin to the delight of the Mako faithful.

He clearly has a lust for the physical, and on the same note, has the kind of deft skills that make him an ideal fit for the mould that's been cast for the modern-day All Blacks No. 6.

Frizell appears to be the archetypal All Blacks loose forward, and at just 24-years-old, shapes as a massively exciting prospect.

It's time to move on from Nehe Milner-Skudder

Remember the 2015 Nehe Milner-Skudder? The dynamic, pocket-rocket of a winger capable of breaking games open in a single bound of that inimitable 'Skudder step'? One of the stand-outs of the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup winning campaign in 2015?

Unfortunately, that's no longer the Milner-Skudder we see before us today.

And it's through no fault of his own, having endured a brutally luckless run with injury. The selectors have displayed their trademark loyalty and belief that – with consistent rugby – his best is just around the corner.

The best is behind Nehe Milner-Skudder.
The best is behind Nehe Milner-Skudder. Photo credit: Photosport

But as a smaller winger, once that explosive ability to accelerate is compromised, so too is the threat to opposition defences, and that's what we've seen with Milner-Skudder. He may have scored a try on Saturday, but his laboured route to the chalk with acres of space ahead of him was telling. He also lacks the kind of top-end speed required of wings at this level.

With the riches across New Zealand rugby at the outside back position – including the likes of George of Bridge and Ben Lam waiting in the wings (excuse that one) - it's not a selection they can continue to justify.

Even if he were to miraculously rediscover that vintage form, at 27 years of age, he's unlikely to feature in any plans post-2019 Rugby World Cup. The focus needs to shift on developing the new breed.

The silky skills are still there and he undoubtedly has plenty of quality rugby left in him, but unfortunately, test rugby may have now passed him by.

Argentina are world class

It's now been six years since the Pumas became part of the Rugby Championship, and they've improved markedly each and every campaign. That was well demonstrated by their efforts in Nelson, where the final scoreline was far from representative of what was a highly-competitive contest.

As the All Blacks brass love to tell us – ad nauseum - Super Rugby is indeed another entire level below test rugby. But it's undeniable that the Jaguares' inception has had an enormous impact on the quality of the national squad.

As the Jaguares have improved, so too have the Pumas, and their second-placing in this year's South African conference is indicative of where they now find themselves at test level. Buoyed by a comprehensive win over the Springboks, they're playing with the kind of flair that's fuelled by a new sense of self-belief.

Let go of the tired notion of the Argentinian scrum being the cornerstone of their game – their threat now lies in their ability to control phase play, recycle ball, and their lethal counter-attack, which is now only behind the All Blacks' in terms of quality.

They'll fancy themselves against the Australians next week, and the return fixture against the All Blacks in Buenos Aires should be a barn-burner.

Don’t rule them out as finals contenders come Japan 2019.

We need more test rugby in the provinces

Even from afar, it was clear how much the All Blacks' presence meant to Nelson this past week.

There seemed to be a real buzz across the entire community, with all and sundry pitching in to help make the occasion fittingly memorable.

Queues stretched around the block at signing sessions, backpackers flocked to town, and Sunny Nelson positively sizzled.

The players themselves seem to be having just as much fun, and both teams helped cap off the week the way it deserved – with a competitive, open, and free-flowing game of test match rugby. 

Manawatu, Northland? Hawke's Bay – who's up next?

Now all we need is a 2:30pm kick-off time.

Stephen Foote is a Newshub digital sports reporter

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