Preview: Argentina v South Africa
The Springboks will aim to continue their resurgence and make a bit of history in their return fixture against the Pumas in Mendoza on Saturday.
The Springboks will aim to continue their resurgence and make a bit of history in their return Rugby Championship fixture against the Pumas in Mendoza on Saturday.
Suffice it to say, the Springboks have come a long way since the Heyneke Meyer era kicked off last June.
Starting afresh after an exodus of key stalwarts, Meyer’s debut season at the helm was always going to be a challenging rebuilding year.
The series win over England was a satisfactory start, but Meyer’s inexperienced Springboks received a reality check in the inaugural Rugby Championship as they secured just two victories and finished third.
Since then, however, the Springboks have improved significantly and head into this weekend’s Test on a seven-match unbeaten run, their best winning streak since the 13 consecutive wins that spanned from 2007 to 2008.
Evolution has been the buzz word in the Springbok camp this year and there was certainly signs of progression in last weekend record romp in Soweto.
The traditionally conservative South Africans showed a willingness to spread the ball and counter attack from inside their 22.
It hinted that the kick-and-chase brigade have adopted a positive new mindset, one that’s far removed from the premeditated and predictable approach that proved unsuccessful without the likes of Fourie du Preez and Victor Matfield.
Crucially, however, the Springboks kept their structure in last weekend’s 60-point pummelling. There was no naive, willy-nilly Sevens-esque play - field position and set-piece dominance remained the foundation.
And dominate the set pieces they did. They had complete ascendency in both the scrums and line-outs, which gave the backline - now featuring the mercurial Willie le Roux and rising star JJ Engelbrecht - a perfect attacking platform.
“The one aspect that I was pleased with from my team [last weekend] was the set pieces,” Meyer told a media scrum during the build-up to Saturday’s Test.
“Argentineans always have a very good scrum and with the new laws [scrum engagement sequence] it was always going to be a 50-50 and I thought we scrummed well.
“We didn't miss one scrum, we didn't miss a line-out and we took all our kick-offs - if your set pieces are not good against Argentina they will punish you.”
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers in his post-match interview said, "You can't complain too much when you win 73-13", but they will certainly look to improve on the slow start they made last weekend.
“If you look at the first half [in Soweto last weekend] it was very, very close and they were still in the game. That penalty try was a 50-50 and anything can happen,” remarked Meyer.
“We want to be humble and stay focussed. We have a lot of respect for them, I know they are a quality side and Saturday will be a tough game for us. We are also a team that is still learning and developing.”
Unfortunately for the Pumas, the Springboks would also have learned from their fortuitous 16-all draw in last year’s corresponding clash in Mendoza, making a repeat performance highly unlikely.
The squad now know what to expect from the Pumas on home soil and look set to sidestep complacency as they eye their first ever away win in the four-nation tournament.
“Every Test match is a new challenge. We know that everything worked well for us last Saturday, but we are also aware that this coming Saturday will be a very different challenge,” Meyer said of the possibility of complacency setting in.
“Argentina is a proud nation and we have a lot of respect for Argentinean rugby. Last year was a really tough game and we expect a tough game on Saturday.
“By saying that, we want to concentrate on our own game, as we still need to improve in a lot of areas. We are focussing on our own game and trying to play much better.”
Meyer added that they are not reading much into Argentina’s poor performance last weekend and expect them to be much-improved at home.
“Last year they were unlucky not to beat South Africa here [in Mendoza] and they were unlucky not to beat Australia [in Rosario] as well. I don't think you must look too much into the previous game.
“We have to start from scratch and we only focus on the next game. We really haven't had a good away game, so the team is very focussed at this stage,” said Meyer.
The Springbok coach added: “It was difficult for them [last weekend], it was a huge occasion for us ... it was very important for us to play well for [former president Nelson Mandela]. Now they are at home, but I want to concentrate more on my own team.
“They are a proud nation and they will be very highly motivated. You can't just play only on emotion and the same applies to us, you have to be clinical and you have to play good rugby as well.
“However, we know they will be a different team. By saying that, we also want to improve. There are still a lot of areas we are not happy with - this is a tough competition and every single game is a must-win and we will also be motivated - it will be a great battle.”
Players to watch:
For Argentina: A fit-again Marcos Ayerza has been roped in to provide some much-needed stability at scrum time and will need to come through for coach Santiago Phelan. New lock pairing Julio Farías Cabello and Mariano Galarza have a similar objective in the line-out. In the back division, Martín Landajo needs to make amends for his ordinary tactical-kicking last weekend, while Horacio Agulla and Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino will want to make the most of their promotions to the run-on side. Tomas Lavaninni and Benjamin Macome enter the fray this week and will look to make an impact off the bench.
For South Africa: If anyone is in danger of losing his place in the starting line-up it’s Bjorn Basson. The Bulls wing has 10 Test caps to his name but continues to struggle to make the step up to Test rugby. His low workrate and suspect defence remain a concern, so he needs to have a strong game to validate his continued selection in the absence of the injured JP Pietersen. Ruan Pienaar had a solid outing last weekend, but considering the statement Fourie du Preez made off the bench, the Ulster scrumhalf needs to show his hunger to retain the green and gold No.9 jersey. Willie le Roux, the man who’s breathed new life into the Springbok backline, is always one to watch, as is hard-working veteran Bryan Habana. Duane Vermeulen will want to kick on after his solid comeback following a lengthy injury lay-off while the continued development of Eben Etzebeth into a world-class international lock is certainly worth keeping an eye on. Gurthrö Steenkamp made little impact in his Springbok return and will be eager to set the record straight, Bismarck du Plessis will be fired up as he wins his 50th Test cap and Jano Vermaak will make just his second Test appearance.
Head to head: One was the villain and the other the hero last weekend. Their lopsided first duel had a major bearing on proceedings and will push the ‘rematch’ between Eusebio Guiñazú and Adriaan Strauss into the spotlight this weekend. Phelan has acted after his ill-advised front row selection saw his pack bullied at scrum time last weekend and while it’ll take place a week later than it should have, purists will get to see the heavyweight scrum battle between Juan Figallo and Tendai Mtawarira.
2013: South Africa won 73-13, Soweto
2012: 16-all draw, Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6, Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 63-9, Johannesburg
2007: South Africa won 37-13, Paris (World Cup semifinal)
2005: South Africa won 34-23, Buenos Aires
2004: South Africa won 39-7, Buenos Aires
2003: South Africa won 26-25, Port Elizabeth
2002: South Africa won 49-29, Springs
2000: South Africa won 37-33, Buenos Aires
Prediction: The Springboks showed last weekend that they are a vastly superior side and they should prevail comfortably again this weekend. The long flight to Buenos Aires, unfamiliar chilly conditions and the pride of the Pumas on home soil mean it won’t be another blow out, but the visitors will still have the edge in all facets of play and will leave South America with at least four points. Springboks by 17.
Argentina: 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (captain), 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Julio Farías Cabello, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Matías Díaz, 19 Tomas Lavaninni, 20 Benjamin Macome, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Fernández, 23 Joaquin Tuculet.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Date: Saturday, August 24
Venue: Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
Kick-off: 16.10 (21.10 SA time; 19.10 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly sunny and chilly with a 13km/h south wind. A high of 10° and low of -1°.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Pascal Gauzère (France)
TMO: Marshall Kilgore (Ireland)
By Quintin van Jaarsveld