Springbok captain Adriaan Strauss has highlighted the threat of Argentina at the scrums and breakdowns ahead of the Rugby Championship opener on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Nelspruit.
The Boks are under pressure to produce a performance of substance. Victory at the Mbombela Stadium would mark their first win in the Rugby Championship since October 2014. Defeat would extend their losing streak in the tournament to four, and serve as a hammer blow to their title ambitions.
On Friday, Strauss held court at the team hotel in Nelspruit. The Bok captain exuded an air of calm when responding to questions about South Africa’s mediocre record in recent times, as well as the lack of experience in the current side.
Ten out of 15 players in the run-on team have 20 caps or fewer. The five players who do boast significant experience at this level, namely Strauss, Bryan Habana, Beast Mtawarira, Eben Etzebeth and Francois Louw, will need to shoulder more responsibility as a result.
Strauss feels that the Boks have the right blend of youth and experience. While he is expecting an onslaught from an Argentina team renowned for its combative attitude and approach, he is confident his charges will be equal to the task.
‘The younger guys bring a lot of energy to the party,’ the Bok captain said. ‘Many of them have already shown that they belong at this level in the recent series against Ireland.
'That puts my mind at ease. I know they will produce the goods on Saturday. Having said that, I know that the senior guys will help to ease the pressure.’
Many of the Argentinian players selected for this weekend’s Test featured in the recent Super Rugby competition with the Jaguares. And yet, Strauss believes that the Pumas will embrace a different style of play in the Rugby Championship.
Strauss countered suggestions that Argentina may possess the same weaknesses as a Jaguares side that struggled on defence and, somewhat surprisingly, at the scrums.
‘You can’t compare the Jaguares and the Pumas. This is a Test rugby side, and we are expecting something very different from them in the Rugby Championship.
‘They’re a good mauling and scrummaging side. They’re also really effective at those chop-tackles, taking your legs out from under you. They attack the rucks, often joining from the side, and look for turnover ball.
‘You have to be so careful against a side like that,’ Strauss added. ‘In the past, they have won penalties at the scrums and rucks and it has really disrupted our momentum. We will be looking to start well in these departments, to settle early and take control of the game.
‘They play with a lot of passion. Their captain, Agustín Creevy, is playing his 50th Test this Saturday, so that will fuel them even more.’
Argentina beat the Boks 37-25 at Kings Park last year. South Africa have played two Tests at Nelspruit before. They had to fight hard to grind out victories against Scotland in 2013 and Wales in 2014.
‘The results of the past won’t affect us,’ Strauss said of this record. ‘We’ve cast what happened at Nelspruit in previous Tests and what happened against Argentina last year out of our minds.’
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images