Handré Pollard's kicking game will need to be on point for the Springboks to win convincingly in Salta, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Promotions to the starting line-up for Juan Smith and Gurthö Steenkamp are hardly surprising. Last week, the Boks battled without an abrasive ball-carrier in the Smith mould. They were shown up at the scrums, and the selection of Steenkamp should provide more stability at this set piece on Saturday.
The Boks will also be expecting more from their No 10. There were rumours of Morné Steyn replacing Pollard for this fixture, but Heyneke Meyer has decided to stick with Pollard as a starter for at least one more Test.
The 20-year-old is a brilliant attacking player, as was witnessed in his debut against Scotland this past June. However, his tactical kicking game is not yet up to scratch. This much was evident when the Boks were forced to play a more conservative game in a rain-affected match against Argentina at Loftus Versfeld.
Meyer has explained Pollard's selection for the clash in Salta as absolutely necessary. The Bok coach feels that the torrential conditions in Pretoria last week not only robbed South Africa of a chance to run the ball, but to see what Pollard can offer with ball in hand. Pollard will have that chance in Salta.
The good news for the Boks is that the weather will be clear and dry this Saturday. There will be more opportunity to run the ball, and thus more try-scoring chances.
That said, the Boks will not move away from their territorial approach. They have brought Smith and Steenkamp into the mix to boost their set pieces and breakdowns, There is clearly a drive to provide the backs with a better platform.
Ruan Pienaar and Pollard will have key roles to play at No 9 and 10. They will look to kick the Boks into good field positions. Once the Boks have moved into opposition territory, Pienaar and Pollard should bring the likes of Willie le Roux into the game.
There should also be opportunities to counter-attack. While the Pumas are renowned for their breakdown play, the Boks boast a couple of specialists who are capable of forcing important turnovers. After the likes of Francois Louw and Bismarck du Plessis effect the steal, we could see Pollard and Le Roux attacking a disorganised Pumas defensive line.
Argentina will endeavour to compromise the Boks' structures, and slow the pace of the game. But if they are punished for their transgressions and fall behind on the scoreboard, they will be forced to change tack. This could provide the Boks with further opportunities to score, and possibly secure the four-try bonus point.
Whether referee Steve Walsh penalises Argentina for negative play, and indeed for foul play, remains to be seen. Walsh was the man in the middle when Argentina last hosted South Africa, and was too lenient on a Pumas side that employed underhanded tactics.
If Argentina are penalised this Saturday, then Pollard must make them pay. The Boks have one of the finest goal-kickers in Steyn on the bench, but if the Boks and Pollard perform to potential, Steyn will not be needed.
South Africa need to win if they are to maintain their position at the top of the Rugby Championship log. They also need to show a marked improvement up front if they are to take some momentum into the subsequent clashes in Australia and New Zealand.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Springboks 17, Draw 1
In Argentina: Springboks 8, Draw 1
POLLARD'S STATS THAT MATTER
80% – His goal-kicking success rate for the Boks in two Tests (eight from 10)
93% – His goal-kicking success rate for the Bulls in Super Rugby in 2014 (26 from 28 attempts)
5 – The number of errors he made in Round 1 of the Rugby Championship (Rank 1)
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Paul Matera, 5 Thomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthö Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images