The Puma front row is always a threat

2012-08-11 19:03

The balance of rugby power still lies in the southern hemisphere, with Argentina’s inclusion now adding much-needed flavour. Khanyiso Tshwaku looks at the Rugby Championship’s four contenders

Thanks to two World Cups, where they went through to the knockout stages, Argentina have been knocking on the Tri-Nations door.

They will finally bash it down on Saturday at Newlands, when they get to show what they’re made of in the inaugural Castle Rugby Championship.

It is nothing less than they deserve, having shown excellent form over the past nine years. They might not have beaten any of their southern hemisphere neighbours, but European sides have felt their wrath.

Not much should be expected of them in their first season, but they are a breath of fresh air as the staple diet of Wallaby, All Black and Springbok matches was becoming tedious.

What they will bring to the table is their forwards-based play, which is on a par with England and France, as most of their players play in Europe.

They will test the physical limits of their counterparts, but whether they have all-round capabilities in terms of varying their play remains to be seen.

One team they will fancy their chances against is Australia, who have the weakest front row of the top rugby nations. Of course, what they lack in front-row grunt is made up for by their competitiveness in the tight and loose exchanges and their electric backline with the likes of Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Quade Cooper and Berrick Barnes.

They are virtually interchangeable and can suit any game plan.

The All Blacks have the same kinds of riches the Australians are spoilt with, but they can add a more pragmatic component through their hard-grafting forwards.

Workhorse flanker Jerome Kaino will be missed, but the likes of Adam Thomson, Victor Vito and Kieran Read are all great products off the New Zealand flanker assembly line.

With Dan Carter set to marshal the backs, the only puzzle that Steve Hansen needs to solve is that of the midfield with Conrad Smith injured and Ma’a Nonu off the boil.

The Sprinboks, now under Heyneke Meyer, have a lot to prove after underwhelming performances in their past two seasons.

They had a sure enough start against England, but did not show enough to suggest they could topple their Antipodean foes. However, with matches at altitude, the Boks will always be a formidable side.

The Springboks cannot afford to take the Pumas lightly in Cape Town, as their forwards can take the game away from any team. Defeat may be something the Boks have never tasted against the Pumas, but crossing the Atlantic a week later after a bruising opener could take its toll on them.
Rugby Championship Schedule 2012

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