Our rugby scribe takes a look at Saturday’s Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and Argentina.
Allister Coetzee’s charges will be out to avenge their 2015 Rugby Championship home defeat to Argentina when they take on Los Pumas at the Mbombela Stadium this Saturday. The hosts have had a less than impressive start to the 2016 season, narrowly beating an under-strength Irish side in June.
The Argentines, meanwhile, come into this one off the back of a drawn June series with France. It must be noted, however, that they fielded a understrength side for the series.
South Africa v Argentina | Saturday 20 August | Mbombela Stadium | 17:05
To Win (80 Mins)
South Africa 1/5 | Draw 25/1 | Argentina 7/2
South Africa (-11.5) 9/10 | Argentina (+11.5) 9/10
The June Internationals proved a bit of a false dawn for South African Rugby with the Boks reverting to the tried and tested rather than experimenting. I kind of get why the good old South African approach was implemented by Coetzee, but surely, scraping to a series victory against an Irish squad who were missing talisman, Johnny Sexton, must have been a bit of a wake-up call for the Bok mentor.
Coetzee’s side were at their best against Ireland when they looked to keep ball in hand and take on their opponents defensive line. Aimless kicking combined with a poor chase line this weekend may well allow the dangerous Argentine back three into the game. This is precisely what happened at Kings Park last year and that game ended with Argentines getting their first-ever victory over the Springboks.
This is a very different looking Springbok outfit to the one that went down in Durban 12 months ago. Gone are veterans, Schalk Burger, JP Pietersen, Jean de Villiers, and Ruan Pienaar. In their place, are some exciting players like Faf de Klerk, Lionel Mapoe, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley. These men all enjoyed stellar Super Rugby campaigns with the Lions and hopefully their form carries over to the Rugby Championship.
Allister Coetzee has had to deal with a few injury concerns in the build-up to the tournament with Duane Vermeulen pulling out from the squad with a knee injury and Patrick Lambie still unavailable due to concussion. There is some positive news on the Lambie front however, with the baby-faced utility back set to make a return for the Sharks in the Currie Cup imminently.
With Vermeulen out for the entirety of the tournament and Lambie unlikely to be available up until the third week, a lot of responsibility is going to fall square on the shoulders of Elton Jantjies and Warren Whiteley.
Both players have put in some magnificent shifts for the ‘Boks when called upon, but there is still a bit of concern over Janjties temperament. The Lions kingpin had a sublime Super Rugby campaign up until the final, where the Hurricanes rush defence and poor Wellington weather made it near on impossible for him to operate in that enigmatic, yet brilliantly effective, style of his. The ‘Boks will need him at his best this weekend if they are to get what has been a lumbering backline going again.
Jantjies will hope his forwards lay a secure platform for him and franchise partner, Faf de Klerk, to work off. The two men who may be key to laying this foundation are dynamic Stormers locking duo Eben Ethizbeth and Pieter Steph-du Toit – I’m presuming Coetzee will select these two ahead of Lood de Jaeger who wasn’t in great touch during the June Tests or the Super Rugby season. The pairing is more than capable of dominating the Argentines at the set piece as well as in the loose.
Another player who’s likely to make a big impact this weekend is forgotten man of South African rugby, Johan Goosen. The former Free State Cheetahs pivot enjoyed a stellar season with French Club Racing Metro. Goosen’s long range goal kicking was pivotal to Racing claiming the French Top 14 title. While Goosen mainly operated at outside centre for his club, the talk coming out of the Bok camp is that he will take over the fullback role from the absent Willie le Roux.
Gone are the days of Los Pumas rocking up to South Africa hoping to only take a bonus point away from their fixtures. Their historic victory in Durban last year, as well as their run to the semi-finals of the World Cup, will have given them a hell of a lot of confidence that will somewhat negate the poor showing from the Jaguares during the Super Rugby season.
While a lot of the punditry in the build-up to this game has centered around the Jaguares ill-fated Super Rugby debut, you would have to be a bit of a mug to think that will affect the Argentine national team.
Firstly, the majority of the Argentine side has enjoyed a solid month off while a good portion of the South African squad has only had a week to recuperate from their Super Rugby exertions. Secondly, the Argentines will be bolstered by the return of their players based in Europe
That’s enough talk about the returning backs, though, let’s move on to Argentina’s biggest strength, their pack. Los Pumas may have dropped the old ‘bajada’ scrumming technique a few years ago but they are still a brilliant scrummaging side.
They also have a competent lineout with loosies like Facundo Isa providing hooker Augustin Creevy with options to hit at lineout time. The Argentine loosies have also improved their skill sets over the years and are now more competent at linking up with and running off the shoulder of their backs. This will go a long way to stretching the ‘Bok defence particularly if Allister Coetzee goes for Oupa Mohoje and Francois Louw as his flankers.
The Stats That Matter
The two sides met three times last year with the Boks winning two and Argentina winning one. Both of South Africa’s victories came on foreign shores and saw the ‘Boks beat their opponents by more than ten points.
The last five games between the two sides have ended in only seen the total score line cross the fifty point mark twice with the other three games finishing with a combined total score below 40.
These games aren’t really noted for being try fests with the Springboks only scoring five tries in the last three clashes and the Argentines only managing to go one better with five.
Verdict: South Africa 1/5
This game makes me a bit nervy. I would avoid either of those handicaps and simply back the ‘Boks on a straight win.