Eben Etzebeth's leadership and set-piece prowess will be key when the Springboks go searching for a drought-ending away win in Salta on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Expect a scrap in Salta on Saturday. Expect the Pumas to grow in strength and stature, to 'hulk out' on their home pitch and in front of their own fans.
We've seen it happen before. The Boks were held to a draw in Mendoza in 2012. Morné Steyn's accurate goal-kicking spared the visitors' blushes in Mendoza in 2013 and in Salta in 2014. Last year, the Boks suffered their first Test loss on Argentinian soil.
Some might point to the 26-12 victory against the Pumas in Buenos Aires in 2015 as a rare example of South African dominance. One has to remember, of course, that the Pumas achieved their first-ever win against the Boks in Durban the week before.
Why do the Boks continue to underestimate the Pumas in Argentina? Why do they struggle to adapt to the physical challenge in this part of the world?
Etzebeth's Boks should expect a hostile welcome by the fans at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena on Saturday. They should expect a fierce assault by the Pumas players on the pitch. They should expect referee Pascal Gaüzère to allow a contest at the rucks.
The biggest question is this: Can the Boks overcome these challenges to claim a win in Argentina, and ultimately their first win overseas since the 2015 World Cup?
A physical response is a must. The Boks dominated the scrums in the recent fixture in Port Elizabeth. They should be looking to apply more pressure on the Pumas' lineout in Salta, though. They should also be looking to prevent Argentina's breakdown bandits from slowing the ball down at the rucks and disrupting the flow of the South African attack.
Etzebeth took some excellent options last Saturday. He instructed Elton Jantjies to kick for goal when the situation demanded it. On three occasions, however, he backed his team's set piece deep in opposition territory and obtained the ultimate reward.
Etzebeth will face a new challenge in Salta. The crowd will get behind Argentina. The Pumas will push the boundaries at the breakdowns. They will look to get under the skins of the South Africans. How the visitors respond, and how Etzebeth responds, will be crucial.
More will be expected of the Bok back row in terms of gainline physicality and breakdown accuracy. South Africa have to get this right from the outset. They took too long to adapt in Port Elizabeth last week.
The Pumas may look to pressure the Bok defence with a series of well-placed kicks. The inexperienced back three of Andries Coetzee, Raymond Rhule and Courtnall Skosan will be tested.
Francois Hougaard and Jantjies will also have key kicking roles to play. It will be interesting to see if Hougaard can thrive in a more tactical battle. Ross Cronjé, who is known for his tactical strengths rather than his running game, is unavailable due to injury.
The Boks look set for a different sort of test of their physicality and composure this Saturday. A dominant forward performance as well as a clinical tactical display in Salta will allow them to travel to Australasia with momentum and confidence.
Stats and facts
- South Africa last week extended their record against Argentina to 22 wins from 25 games (drawn one, lost two) in what was their biggest win against the Pumas since 2013.
- The Pumas will be searching for back-to-back wins against the Springboks on home soil after a 26-24 victory when they hosted them in August 2016.
- Argentina have lost four of their last five games on home soil, although their one win in that run came in their most recent such fixture, a 45-29 win against Georgia.
- Argentina need just 13 more points for their 500th point scored against South Africa at Test level.
- South Africa have won their last four games in a row. They’ve not won more on the bounce since a run of eight straight wins from 2013 to 2014.
- However, the Springboks haven’t won away from home since beating Argentina 24-13 at the 2015 World Cup, losing six road fixtures since then.
- Argentina conceded 12 penalties in last week’s game against South Africa, more than any other team at the opening round of the Rugby Championship.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane,19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Damian de Allende.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Juan Leguizamón, 7 Tomás Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Lucas Noguera Paz.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Marcos Kremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Matías Moroni.
Photo: Nic Bothma/BackpagePix
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