Argentina vs South Africa | Saturday 15 August | Estadio Jose Amalfitani | 21:40
The only performance worse than referee Romain Poite’s last Saturday, was that of the men in green and gold. Poite was as clueless as to what was going on at scrum time as Inspector Clouseau at the Pink Panther crime scene. Although many have cited the referee’s contribution as the main factor in the South African loss, in my mind the blame lies solely at the Springbok player’s feet. Whilst it’s nearing crisis mode in the South African set up, the Argentines have probably never experienced calmer waters. Their win last Saturday saw them secure their first ever finish above the foot of the table since the Rugby Championship came about. With the two teams experiencing polar opposite repercussions from last weekend’s encounter, this one may be a bit less friendly than its billing would have you believe. Both teams are traditionally not afraid to operate on the borderlines of legality and ironically, it may come down to how the referee controls proceedings.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 5/10
Argentina (+5.5) 9/10
South Africa (-5.5) 9/10
While 2014’s win over the Wallabies would have been hailed as one of the nation’s finest sporting moments, last weekend’s victory against the country that gave them the Pumas moniker will have had Argentine rugby enthusiasts celebrating all the way through to this Saturday’s kick off. If you had told Daniel Hourcade that his charges would not finish on the bottom of the log this year before the Rugby Championship commenced, he would have probably replied with, “The Australians aren’t that bad.” His charges fully deserved last weekend’s win as well as their third-place finish. Despite going down by large margins to New Zealand and Australia; they didn’t make life easy for the Australasian duo. With the Rugby Championship now concluded, Hourcade’s mind will have shifted solely to the World Cup. He is once again delaying his team announcement but if his last selection is anything to go by we’re likely to see a few changes. With the Springbok coaching staff talking about counteracting the Argentine’s northern hemisphere-esque playing style, I fancy Hourcade to change things up and get his charges moving the ball around the park a lot quicker than they did during the Championship. One man who proved a threat when put into space was Juan Imhoff. The bulky winger was a real thorn in the side of the Springboks last weekend and with a World Cup starting spot not yet consolidated, expect the Argentine flyer to put in another impressive shift.
We finally saw eighty minutes of consistency from the Springboks in their calmative Rugby Championship fixture; unfortunately it was eighty minutes of knock ons and poor decision making. Worryingly for Springbok supporters, the embarrassing defeat comes with just over a month left until the Rugby World Cup. Where Heyneke Meyer goes to from here is a query that is getting almost as much media coverage and analysis as Julius Malema’s enquiry into when our President is going to “pay back the money.” Speaking of politics; Cosatu have decided to voice their opinion on the Springbok selection crisis after five Springboks approached the trade union with transformation concerns. With so much pressure already piled on the camp, the last thing Meyer needs is for it to splinter. Whatever the current climate inside the South African camp, they’ve got a massive test on their hands against a Pumas side who, after getting their first taste of out-done Springbok, will be looking for seconds.
If the ‘Boks are to get back to winning ways they’ll have to do it without skipper Jean De Villiers. The Province man sustained a broken jaw in last week’s defeat. Whilst De Villiers’ experience will be sorely missed, Victor Matfield’s return to the starting lineup will hopefully soften the blow. The veteran lock is one of a series of changes to the side. He is joined in the forward pack by ball-carrying juggernaut Willem Alberts and provincial teammate and Bulls front row anchor Marcel van der Merwe. Other changes to the pack sees van der Merwe joined in the front row by the Cheetahs duo of Adriaan Strauss and Trevor Nyakane. The backline has also seen a good few tweaks in personnel and a positional switch. Zane Kirchner comes into the fullback slot for the injured Willie Le Roux, while Lwazi Mvovo finally gets a start on the right wing. Mvovo’s elevation to the starting lineup means Jesse Kriel returns to the centres to continue his budding partnership with Damian De Allende. The final change to the backline comes at ten, where Pat Lambie has switched places with Handre Pollard, who will be on the bench for the battle in Buenos Aires. The bench will also contain Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is to be the replacement flank option. The decision to go with Alberts in the starting fifteen and du Toit on the bench is based on Argentina’s ability to boss the breakdown and tight exchanges last weekend. Although I for one thought it may not be a bad idea to play Coetzee and Brussow in the loose trio (the ‘Boks severely lacked a physical presence with ball carrying ability), the inclusion of these two bruisers should ensure the Argentines have to commit more players to protect against them bursting through the inside channels, and hopefully in doing so open up some space for the Springbok backs to attack.
VERDICT: South Africa 5/10
Despite the doom and gloom surrounding South African rugby and a host of changes to the match day 23; this still is a talented Springbok side. It is going to be a character test, but it should be overcome by the men donning the green and gold.