Preview: South Africa v Argentina

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 06:18

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: rugby365's acclaimed writer Paul Dobson gives us his view on the second match of the four-nation tournament.

Your guess is as good as mine.

A while ago, you would have had no doubt that South Africa would win. It may not be by a lot, but they would won.

After all that's what good teams do. But that all started to change in 2015.

In the Rugby Championship in 2015 and 2016 South Africa played Argentina four times.

The result? Two-all.

And one of Argentina's two was in Durban.

In 19 matches before Durban, the two teams had met 19 times and the Pumas had never won. Then they won two of the next five.

It is anybody's guess.

But then you say: "Yes, but look at what happened in June. It was a new Springboks team, one with spirit."

True, South Africa beat a French team, weakened by the Top 14 Final, in three home Tests and comfortably - 37-14, 37-15 and 35-12.

And at the same time, Argentina lost to an England team, weakened by the British and Irish Lions' tour, in two home Tests - 25-35 and 34-38.

That suggests that South Africa is in a better state, but they have lost the leader in whom they have great faith - Warren Whiteley, who may just have boosted the Springboks flagging spirits.

Can Eben Etzebeth keep it going - a man with glittering eyes and a different body language from earnest, but smiling, Whiteley?

The Pumas have their established captain Agustín Creevy - an excellent hooker and a ball thief of note.

It has been frequently said that the Pumas are not the Jaguares. Playing for Jaguares was a job of work, but playing for the Pumas is a patriotic act of great fervour. You will have seen the ardour with which they end their anthem.

Coronados de gloria vivamos,
O juremos con gloria morir.

The choice - life with the crown of glory or a glorious death.

What will the tactics be? Will Nicolás Sánchez kick so shrewdly that the Springbok defence becomes increasingly jittery? Will the Springboks lift the tempo so much that the Pumas become confused and defensive.

The Pumas of old scrummed and mauled, and did not seem to have anything positive to do after that. Daniel Hourcade's Pumas are different. They are players who can strike in a flash, the way their ancestors could not.

The forwards on both sides are likely to be as adept at getting possession and making sure that the opposing pack has no leeway.

The critical part may be what happens after that and a great deal of that depends on the halfbacks - Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies for South Africa and Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez for Argentina.

Here a combination of efficiency and creativity could be a winning recipe.

Players to Watch

For South Africa: At fullback Andries Coetzee has speed and flare, and often with the space to use both. You would want to watch Jan Serfontein, hoping fervently that he can play the exciting way he played against France, the Bulls' heavy yoke cast aside. And who would not want to watch each one of the Springboks? Will we see the flashing eyes and menacing smile of South Africa's giant captain, Eben Etzebeth?

For Argentina: Like his Springbok counterpart Pumas fullback Joaquín Tuculet plays with speed and flare, and often with the space to use both. You always notice Agustín Creevy with the apologetic look and slightly embarrassed gait that hide a man of courage strength and skill beyond his precision at line-out and his strength in scrums.

Head to Head: There is always a battle between scrumhalves - Martín Landajo, playing his 70th Test, Ross Cronje his third. Landajo is aggressive, Cronje set on his job. Both are brave. Speed of service will count a great deal - far more important than strutting. Will the difference in experience count? Wings versus wings. Big Emiliano Boffelli and swift, strong Ramiro Moyano may prove handfuls for Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule, and the two Pumas are sure to want to try them out. In the battle between the two sets of loose forward there could be a more individual battle between Jaco Kriel and Pablo Matera - both strong, fast and brave.

Recent results:
2016: Argentina    won 26-24, Salta
2016: South Africa won 30-23, Nelspruit
2015: South Africa won 24-13, London (World Cup third-place plat-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

The results to look at most closely are those of 2015 and 2016.

Prediction: Argentina have won two of their last five games against South Africa after having won none of the previous 19 encounters between the two nations; they'll also be searching for consecutive wins against the Springboks for the first time. South Africa are undefeated from their previous four fixtures at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, restricting their opponents to just 10 points per game on average at the venue. Argentina will be searching for back-to-back wins for the first time since June 2016 after a 45-29 win against Georgia earlier this year. South Africa head into the game on the back of a three-game series whitewash against France, the last time they won more games in succession was a four-game streak during the Rugby World Cup in 2015. However, the Springboks have lost seven of their last nine games in The Rugby Championship, including their heaviest home defeat ever in their last such match (15-57 v New Zealand). Argentina enjoyed the most time in possession of any team in The Rugby Championship 2016 (17 minutes, 12 seconds per game), as well as boasting the best ruck success rate (96 percent) of any of the four nations. Juan Manuel Leguizamon (77) is poised to equal Pedro Sporleder (78) as the third most capped forward in Pumas history; only Rolando Martin (86) and Mario Ledesma Arocena (84) have played more. Facundo Isa made 85 carries in last year's edition of the tournament, 15 more than any other player, while he gained the most metres of any forward (361). Jean-Luc du Preez is yet to miss a tackle for South Africa, he made 28/28 against France during the June Test Series, the most of any player to maintain a 100 percent success rate. Nicolas Sanchez was successful with 20 of 23 attempts at goal in The Rugby Championship 2016, giving him the best goal success rate (87 percent) of any player to have made more than three attempts. It's anybody's guess but in the belief that the Springbok forwards will get the upperhand, and that the Springbok centres will create opportunities, we suggest that the Springboks will win by five points or so.


South Africa: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Francois Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3 Coenraad Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Damian de Allende.

Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Juan Martín Hernández, 23 Matías Moroni.

Date: Saturday, 19 August 2017
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT; 12.00 Argentina time)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 19°C and a low of 11°C
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson

* Statistics provided by Opta Sports

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