The Springboks take on tournament underdogs Los Pumas in Pretoria this Saturday in the opening round of the Rugby Championship, and with four of their five Super Rugby representatives having self-destructed in heinous fashion earlier this year, the Springboks will be aiming for something of a repeat of last season’s sixty point Highveld obliteration delivered to their Spanish-speaking counterparts in order to conclusively disperse any untimely rumours about the current health of South African rugby. But with Argentina heading into this clash far fresher and better prepared than their ill-intentioned hosts, things are bound to be far more competitive this time around.
To Win (80mins)
South Africa 1/100
South Africa (-26.5) 9/10
Argentina (+26.5) 9/10
Heyneke Meyer has named a formidable run on side made up of a near perfect blend of battle-hardened veterans and fresh explosive talent. Sensational youngster Handre Pollard will direct an exciting Springbok attack packed with unstoppable pace, from the dynamic Willie le Roux at the back to sevens star Cornal Hendricks out wide on the wing, to the evasive Damien de Allende in the midfield. The tried and tested all-Sharks front row of Tendai Mtawarira and brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis are joined in the physical forward pack by the notoriously meddling loose trio of Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermeulen. Veteran enforcer Bakkies Botha will form a new second row partnership with Lood de Jager in the absence of renowned lineout hazard Victor Matfield, who is expected back from injury in the next few weeks.
The tourists have made sweeping changes to the second string side that ran out against Scotland back in June, with only flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and winger Manuel Montero retained from that 21-19 Cordoba defeat. Ex-Racing Metro star Juan-Martin Hernandez is expected to cause his usual breed of havoc in the midfield this week, and his recent decision to return home permanently to take up a central contract in Argentina, along with fellow game-changers Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet and Lucas Amorosino, could mean we see a more fluid performance from the visitors than in recent years. Previously, the majority of the side was spread out across Europe for most of the season before mashing together for the international season.
VERDICT: South Africa (-26.5) 9/10
Argentina have made some strategic changes to their national rugby structures over the past few months which are certain to lead them in the right direction as the World Cup approaches, but it is still too early to expect noticeable improvements just yet. The Springboks are far from the finished product themselves, they head out with a relatively untested backline, but have wisely stuck with a powerful and reliable forward pack in a game that we’ve come to know will be won or lost up front. The Boks have the talent out back to clear the handicap comfortably, so long as they secure clean ball from the outset.
Think we’ve got it wrong? Well leave your comments below and tell us how you think this is going to play out.