Sánchez looms large in Salta

The Springboks need to neutralise Argentina flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez in Salta this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

In the lead-up to the Boks' Rugby Championship opener in Nelspruit, coach Allister Coetzee highlighted the threat of the Argentina attack and Sánchez in particular.

'We need to keep an eye on that little flyhalf,' Coetzee said, before checking himself. 'Well, he isn't really so little, is he?'

Indeed, Sánchez's contributions for Argentina over the past few years have been enormous. He topped the overall point-scorers table at the 2015 World Cup. In the 2016 Rugby Championship opener at the Mbombela Stadium, the little man with the big talent led an Argentinian attack that had the Boks on the ropes for 68 minutes.

According to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, Sánchez made two clean breaks and beat three defenders. He kicked five times. One well-weighted chip behind the Bok defence resulted in a try for Santiago Cordero.

The Boks rallied in the final 12 minutes of the contest, and eventually secured the win. Despite the result, the Boks have reason to be concerned about their defence. It's a weakness that will be exploited by Sánchez and company again if the Boks don't lift their physicality and accuracy in Salta.

A few of the South African forwards were lauded for their defensive efforts in Nelspruit. It's hard to argue with Oupa Mohoje's stats, which show that the blindside flanker made 17 of his 18 tackle attempts.

However, what was also obvious for three quarters of the contest was the Pumas' supremacy at the collisions and breakdowns. While the Boks scrambled well on defence, their tackles at the gainline lacked stopping power. Coetzee's promise of greater linespeed also didn't materialise.

It won't get any easier for the Boks in Salta this Saturday. The Pumas, fuelled by their passionate fans, are always a greater threat in Argentina. And as history will show, many a Bok side has succumbed to the pressure of playing in this environment. It's often taken a late try or penalty goal for the Boks to claim the win in this part of the world.

This Saturday's contest in Salta promises to be another ill-tempered scrap. The Boks need to take the fight to the Pumas at the tackle. As Coetzee has suggested, the set piece needs to fire and the ball-carriers have to get over the gainline to provide the likes of Elton Jantjies with a good attacking platform.

But the performance of the Bok defence may have a greater bearing on the flow and outcome of this clash. The Boks need to keep the Pumas loose forwards on the back foot, and ensure that Sánchez doesn't have space to attack. They should also be wary of Sánchez's boot after the Pumas flyhalf's five-from-six goal-kicking display in Nelspruit.

The pressure will be on Jantjies in this regard. Jantjies and Johan Goosen missed four shots at goal between them last week, and as many as 12 points went begging. The Bok No 10 in particular will need to show greater temperament and accuracy in the cauldron of the Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium.

If Jantjies fails to deliver, Coetzee will be forced to deploy Morné Steyn, a player who was largely responsible for a narrow win at this very ground in 2014.

Overall: Springboks 21, Argentina 1, Draw 1
In Salta: Springboks 1, Argentina 0

– Argentina have won two of their four games at Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium. Both defeats were in their most recent games there, including a 33-31 defeat against the Springboks in 2014.    
– South Africa are yet to lose away to Argentina having won 10 and drawn one, despite trailing at half-time in three of the last five such fixtures.
– Argentina have lost their last two games. They’ve not lost three games in a row since 2014, when they lost eight on the trot.
– Argentina lost their last home game 27-0 against France, the first time they had failed to score a single point in a home game since 1952 (vs Ireland XV) and the first time at any venue since 2000 (vs England).
– South Africa need only two more for their 100th try scored against Argentina. Against only three other nations (Australia, New Zealand, Wales) have they managed to hit triple digits.
– Santiago Cordero added a seventh try to his Test tally in the opening round of the tournament. Every one of his Test tries has been scored outside Argentina.
– Bryan Habana has played 13 games against the Pumas, scoring seven tries in the process, more than any other South African player in both categories.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Argentina Nicolás Sánchez (13) Matias Orlando, Santiago Cordero (1) Facunda Isa (85) Matías Alemanno (11)
Springboks Elton Jantjies (15) Johan Goosen, Ruan Combrinck, Warren Whiteley (1) Johan Goosen (80) Oupa Mohoje (17)

Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.

Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.

Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli