The opening round of The Rugby Championship saw South Africa record a comprehensive 73-13 victory over Argentina in Soweto, but the Pumas will be hoping for a massive turnaround in their fortunes, when they welcome the Boks to Mendoza on Saturday. The corresponding fixture in last year’s tournament saw the sides play out a compelling 16-16 draw, and that game will be something that Argentina need to draw on if they are to have any chance of upsetting the odds in front of their passionate home crowd.
Although it’s unlikely last week’s result would have been any different if Argentina had not lost two players to yellow cards during the game, it certainly added an extra level of difficulty to their challenge, and one which is not advisable when playing a side as talented as South Africa. Keeping 15 players on the pitch at all times will be key for the Pumas, and coach Santiago Phelan will have reemphasised this week the importance of discipline to his team. Argentina had looked competitive early on in Soweto, but seemed to tire quickly, and were consequently no longer the threat they often prove to be at both the set piece and breakdown, and losing parity in this area of the game against South Africa all but guarantees defeat. The Pumas will need to come out and play with a high intensity, and maintain that intensity throughout the game, otherwise we could see another cricket score from the in-form Boks.
The visitors have name an almost unchanged squad, with the only change being forced upon them, as Fourie du Preez dropps from the bench (due to club commitments in Japan), and Jano Vermaak takes his place. There is very little reason to doubt that South Africa can’t go to Argentina and record another comfortable win after their performance last week, but will have to be wary about letting complacency slip into their game. A bonus point win will be expected by the South African fans, and given the quality New Zealand showed in their dismantling of Australia, it could well be vital in the Boks’ chase for the championship.
All Eyes On
If any players come to blows on Saturday, it’s more than likely that Eben Etzebeth will be right at the thick of it. The fiery second row is built in the mould of the player he replaced in the South Africa side, Bakkies Botha, and is perhaps even more physically intimidating than his predecessor. His powerful and confrontational playing style could be vital in helping South Africa to an expected victory, but if he sees red, a loss of discipline could land his team in trouble, and contribute to a surprise Argentina triumph.
Like the squad as a whole, Argentina’s front row went well against South Africa during the first 30 minutes last week, but soon succumbed to the power and precision of their opposite numbers. Bearing in mind that the front row is the cornerstone upon which Argentinean rugby is built, they will be under pressure to perform in Mendoza, especially with talents like Juan Figallo present. Going up against the likes of Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis is no walk in the park, but the home side will really need to earn parity to avoid another embarrassing defeat.
Head to Head: Felipe Contepomi vs Jean de Villiers
Outside of defending, which they didn’t do particularly well, there was little for the Argentinean backs to do last week, as they were often starved of quality ball by the rampant Springbok pack, but they will be hoping to spend more time with ball in hand on Saturday. It’s hard to imagine the Argentine pack performing worse than they did in Soweto, and along with a home crowd spurring them on, they should be able to bring their back line into play. This should create an enticing, and hopefully less one-sided, matchup between two of the most experienced centres in international rugby. It should be a great battle of Contepomi’s tactical nous and ability to kick from hand, against de Villiers’ physicality and running lines.
Prior to the opening round of the tournament, I would have had this game going down to the wire, with South Africa winning by a margin of 7-10 points, but I saw too much from the Boks last week, and not nearly enough from Argentina. Even with a passionate home crowd in Mendonza, I still see South Africa winning by 28.
by Alex Shaw (@alexshawsport)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images