South Africa will be looking to open their Rugby Championship campaign on a positive note when they host Argentina at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The last time the sides met the Argentines emerged 26-24 victors in the second round of the 2016 Rugby Championship in Salta. The Boks will be desperate to exact their revenge for this defeat and show they are a much-improved outfit from their 2016 annus horribilis.
Much has been made of the Jaguares’ poor season in Super Rugby. While it is true that these are the same players who will play for the Pumas, one should expect them to be a much tougher proposition in national colours.
But then again, one cannot ignore the franchise’s shortcomings this season when compared to South African franchise the Lions’ stellar season. Almost half the Springbok starting XV are Lions (7).
The Johannesburg-based side had another wonderful season, almost going all the way only to suffer the heartbreak of losing a second successive Super Rugby final.
Will the Lions stars have gotten over their heartache of two weeks ago and be mentally focused on the task at hand? Either way, they are sure to take a great deal more confidence from the preceding season than their Super Rugby counterparts.
The absence of Warren Whiteley gives Eben Etzebeth his third cap as captain but it is important the Stormers enforcer keeps his emotions in check in the face of a notoriously provocative Argentine side.
It is imperative for Allister Coetzee that the Springboks win here as he will know the Rugby Championship is a far more accurate test of his credentials than a three-match series against a weakened French side.
Should his side lose, the knives will be out and the question marks over his decision to leave players like Ruan Combrinck and Frans Steyn out of the squad will loom larger than ever.
Also, one wonders about the decision to start Uzair Cassiem ahead of Jean-Luc Du Preez despite Du Preez having yet to miss a tackle in his international career. He made 28 out of 28 tackles against France during the June Test series, the most of any player to maintain a 100 percent success rate.
Facundo Isa will be sorely missed as his big-money move to Toulon has taken him out of the Argentina reckoning for a while. The dynamic loose forward made 85 carries in last year’s edition of the Rugby Championship, 15 more than any other player, while he gained the most metres of any forward (361).
Meanwhile, Argentina enjoyed the most time in possession of any team in the 2016 Rugby Championship (17m 12s per game), as well as boasting the best ruck success rate (96 percent) of any of the four nations.
Therefore, despite the Jaguares’ below-par Super Rugby, the Pumas should not be underestimated.
Players to watch:
For South Africa: Franco Mostert has been a revelation this season. He works tirelessly in the scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls. He is also critically the Lions’ top tackler over the past two seasons. He deserves his spot in the Bok XV ahead of the uber-talented Pieter-Steph du Toit right now. Jan Serfontein was sensational against the French. He is a rock on defence and has regained the ability to spot a gap and take it on attack along with having good distribution skills.
For Argentina: Joaquín Tuculet is always a threat with ball in hand, particularly on counter-attacks. If he is given easy up-and-unders to deal with, he could ignite a lethal attack for the Pumas at anytime. Leonardo Senatore is a strong ball-carrier but is equally adept to making a crucial pass or offload with his excellent vision.
Head-to-head: Argentina have become feared for their potent scrums in recent seasons. Allister Coetzee has backed Coenie Oosthuizen in the number three jersey to take on Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and the rest of the Pumas’ power front-row. The forward pack battle will have a major impact on the performances of Elton Jantjies and Nicolas Sanchez. Both fly-halves will be hoping their goal-kicking and x-factor on attack will shine brighter than their opposite number.
Team news: Uzair Cassiem will start at number eight for the Springboks in their opening match of the Rugby Championship. The Cheetahs loose forward comes into the starting line-up for only his second Test after he made his international debut in November 2016 against Wales in Cardiff, with Jean-Luc du Preez moving to the bench. The other change in the pack that started the third Test against France in Johannesburg in June, sees the inclusion of experienced tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen in place of Ruan Dreyer. Springbok coach Allister Coetzee made only one change to the backline, with scrum-half Ross Cronje resuming the number nine duties from Francois Hougaard.
Meanwhile, three changes have been made from the Argentina line-up that beat Georgia in June as Emiliano Boffelli comes in for Matias Moroni on the wing, Tomas Lavanini replaces Matias Alemanno at lock while Pablo Matera gets in ahead of Rodrigo Baez on the blindside flank for the away fixture. Argentina narrowly lost this match in 2016 and will be desperate to start the campaign on a positive note before the reverse game next week.
2016: Argentina won 26-24 in Salta
2016: South Africa won 30-23 in Nelspruit
2015: South Africa won 24-13 in London
2015: South Africa won 26-12 in Buenos Aires
2015: Argentina won 37-25 in Durban
2014: South Africa won 33-31 in Salta
2014: South Africa won 13-6 in Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 22-17 in Mendoza
2013: South Africa won 73-13 in Soweto
2012: South Africa and Argentina drew 16-16 in Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6 in Cape Town
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 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi 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 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Matias Moroni
Date: Saturday, August 19
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gaüzère (France), Nic Berry (Australia)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)