Preview: South Africa v Argentina

Fri, 19 Aug 2016 08:10
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THE RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: In their first match in SANZAAR's 2016 Championship South Africa and Argentina meet in Nelspruit in the subtropical Lowveld.

There was a time when South Africa helped Argentina to play rugby, starting with Fairy Heatlie in 1905 and culminating in their triumph over the Junior Springboks in 1965.


No, that is not true.

There was a higher achievement in 2015, when the Pumas beat the Springboks for the first time and that in South Africa.

In fact South African rugby has not looked as fragile as it does now, not since 1965.

The Pumas had their first win in South Africa and then this June Ireland had its first win in South Africa.

The lid is off the bottle, the genie has escaped, mystique is no more. Often when this happens a trend starts.

There was a time when Argentinian rugby was based on the set piece. The set piece, especially the scrum, became the game - as it was in the 19th century beginnings.

Francisco Ocampo of Buenos Aires was an engineer and he used engineering skills in developing the Bajada scrum based on coordinated, eight-man scrummaging which is still  the trend today. Even after Ocampo died in 1970 the Pumas continued as a scrumming force, but paid little attention to what rugby could do outside of scrum, line-out and maul. They are better proportioned now.

Now the Pumas run and counterattack and are, as a result, dangerous.

The Springboks have taken six players from the creative Lions into their team, four of them in the backs. It just may mean that we shall have two running teams on the field for a Test with a difference.

But there have been warning words coming from both camps.

The Springboks will not be playing Lions rugby and the Pumas will not be playing Jaguares rugby.

It will be a more conservative game which is more suited, we are led to believe, to Test rugby, which apparently is a different game.

It is different in the added responsibility of a country's united desire for victory but not in the laws and skills required to play the game.

The Jaguares did not do well in Super Rugby - not nearly as well as had been expected of them. They won just three out of 14 matches; defeats included those at the hands of the Kings and the Sunwolves. But we are told that the Pumas are not Jaguares. That may be so but 22 of those 23 Pumas were Jaguares. The only one who was not is benched scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli.

There is - or was - a lot of affection and admiration for the Springboks in Argentina. There is also a lot of good feeling towards the Pumas in South Africa - provided of course they lose to the Springboks and beat all others.

They will be keen to win and one of the keys to doing so would be discipline. In one of their matches they collected two red cards in the first half and, unsurprisingly, lost. One of those red cards was for Tomás Lavanini who could be a great lock if he took a more constructive approach to the laws and mores of the game.

Players to Watch

For South Africa: Johan Goosen will attract interest to see if this most talented of players has improved in vision and attitude from being in France. The Springboks have two excellent wings - veteran Bryan Habana and rookie Ruan Combrinck. One can only hope that they will get the ball beyond their centres.  Ruan Combrinck of speed, determination and all-round skill has been a star this year. And there will be much joy if energetic Pieter-Steph du Toit gets on.

For Argentina: There should be a warm welcome for captain Agustín Creevy, an ardent man playing his 50th Test match. Amongst their backs, there are the counter-attacking fullback Joaquín Tuculet, the speedy wing with the dancing feet in Santiago Cordero, the skilful and commitment of Nicolás Sánchez and the cheek of scrumhalf Martín Landajo. In the pack, Facundo Isa is strong and Lavanini interesting.

Head to Head: Front row against front row and one should no longer expect Puma dominance, not with Julian Redelinghuys there. The close battle of scrumhalves is always interesting - abrasive Martín Landajo against livewire Francois de Klerk. Then at flyhalf, there are two skilled players with a broad view of the game - Elton Jantjies of South Africa and Sánchez of Argentina. In the pack, there is the potential conflict between South Africa's locks, Lodewyk de Jager and Eben Etzebeth, and reckless Tomás Lavanini. And the two tough flanks Francois Louw and Pablo Matera are bound to come into contact - and conflict.

Recent results:
2015: South Africa won 24-13, London (World Cup third-place play-off)
2015: South Africa won 26-12, Buenos Aires
2015: Argentina won 37-25, Durban
2014: South Africa won 33-31, Salta
2014: South Africa won 13-6, Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 22-17, Mendoza
2013: South Africa won 73-13, Soweto
2012: South Africa and Argentina drew 16-all, Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6, Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 63-9, Johannesburg

Statistical review: Argentina have won just once in 22 attempts against the Springboks, however, that win came in last season's competition. Although Los Pumas have won just two of their 21 Rugby Championship games, both victories came in their last four games; Argentina will be aiming for back-to-back victories in the competition for the first time. The Springboks have lost their last three games in the competition and will be aiming to avoid four consecutive defeats for the first time since 2011. South Africa will be playing at the Mbombela Stadium for just the third time; they won both previous matches there scoring 30+ points in each (v Wales and Scotland). South Africa lost their opening game of The Rugby Championship in 2015; however, they won their opening games in each of the three years prior, all of which were against Argentina. Argentina (80 percent) and South Africa (81 percent) had the worst scrum success rates in last season's competition; in comparison, Australia and New Zealand scrummaged at 94 percent and 96 percent respectively. South Africa made just 19 clean breaks in the tournament last year, fewer than anyone else, while Argentina beat the fewest defenders (53). Juan Imhoff was involved in all four of Argentina's tries in their win over the Springboks last season (three tries, one assist); since the beginning of 2015 only three players have scored more tries than Imhoff (eight) - Anthony Watson (12), Jonathan Joseph and Julian Savea (both nine). Nicolas Sanchez needs just nine points to become the fourth Pumas player to reach 400 in Test rugby behind Felipe Contepomi (651), Hugo Porta (651) and Gonzalo Quesada (486).

Prediction: If the diminishing crowds at rugby matches in South Africa diminish further in the spacious Mbombela Stadium, producing more echo than cheering, the Springboks, used to fervent support, may well find that a hurdle. But we shall assume normality and suggest that the Springboks will win by more than 10 points.


South Africa: 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Jesse Kriel.

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Juan Martin Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano.

Date: Saturday, August 20
Venue: Mbombela Stadium, Nelspruit
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT, 12.00 Argentina time)
Expected weather: Intervals of clouds and sunshine with a passing shower. High of 27°C and a low of Lo 15°C
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson

* Statistical data provided by Opta Sport

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