Boks will be kept on their toes

2012-08-18 00:00

THE Argentinians will add a freshness and touch of the unpredictable to the southern hemisphere championship when they take on the Springboks in the Rugby Championship opener at Newlands this evening.

Argentina are down at eighth spot on the world rankings, with New Zealand, South Africa and Australia at the top of the heap, but the Pumas will provide lively opposition and bring variety after years of humdrum Tri-Nations competition.

And while they are certain to battle on the road, the Argentinians will take some beating when they return home and play in front of their own noisy, passionate supporters.

They will also level the playing field as far as touring is concerned, and after this championship the All Blacks and Wallabies will now know why the South Africans kept on beefing about the travel factor in playing the Tri-Nations.

Former New Zealand coach Graham Henry, who took the All Blacks to their Rugby World Cup win last year, has spent a couple of weeks preparing the Pumas for the tournament and has been impressed by their approach.

“There’s no doubt the Pumas will give it their best shot,” Henry told the New Zealand media. “They are a tough race of people and they’ll be committed and will get better as time goes on.”

The Pumas have also been boosted by 14 professionals who are based in France and England and they will be fitter and more streetwise than previous Argentinian teams.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer said yesterday he would not be under-rating the Pumas, pointing out they had beaten France in June.

“The Pumas have a great scrum, they are strong maulers, they have an excellent kicking game and they are quick to punish mistakes. We will have to be tactically aware,” he said.

The quietly spoken Meyer has not been shy to place his own players under additional pressure and he has openly admitted he expects more from the Bulls halfback pairing of Morné Steyn and Francois Hougaard after their disappointing series against England.

He believes that the break of a couple of weeks will have “refreshed” Steyn.

“I don’t want to put a spell on him but I must say I am really looking forward to seeing Morné play.

“I just have a strong feeling that he is going to do really well.”

He has also been critical of Hougaard’s tactical kicking and it will come as no surprise to see Ruan Pienaar at scrumhalf sooner rather than later.

Ironically, the only other Bulls player in the starting line-up, fullback Zane Kirchner, will also be watched with a critical eye with many observers believing that Pat Lambie’s play-making ability is being wasted on the bench.

The Boks will field a settled, all-Sharks front-row, but they occasionally have their problems and the Pumas, by fielding a third prop in Eusebio Guinazu at hooker, hope to take advantage in an area of traditional strength.

While it might help in the scrum, it could backfire in the lineout with Guinazu having to pick out his jumpers while avoid the Boks’ towering locks Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth.

Pumas captain and number eight Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe said his team would surprise the Boks if they played to their potential.

“We need to keep our concentration up for the full 80 minutes. We have to pay close attention to detail and have a strong defence. We also have to play a territorial game and force play into their half. We also have to have good discipline.”

Bok captain Jean de Villiers said yesterday that his team were sharper and fresher than they were in June.

“We’ve been together for two weeks and the preparation has been much better than it was before the English series.”

De Villiers, along with most of the rugby world, does not quite know what to expect from the Pumas.

“They’ve been waiting for a hell of a long time to be in this competition and they’ll come out firing.

“They’re a team that pride themselves on their forward play and they have a flyhalf [Juan Hernandez] that can really dominate and control the game.”

The importance of the occasion is certain to work in the Argentinians’ favour though it would be a major upset if the Boks did not emerge with a win.

“It will be a historical moment in our rugby,” said Lobbe. “This is a new chapter and we are all very excited.”

Finally, after 16 years of Tri-Nations rugby, we are now in for something completely different. And that’s a relief for the Argentinians … and us.

TEAMS

Springboks: 15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Bryan Habana, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Frans Steyn, 11. Lwazi Mvovo, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Francois Hougaard, 8. Keegan Daniel, 7. Willem Alberts , 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Andries Bekker, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis, 1. Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements: 16. Adriaan Strauss, 17. Pat Cilliers, 18. Flip van der Merwe, 19. Jacques Potgieter, 20. Ruan Pienaar, 21. Pat Lambie, 22. JJ Engelbrecht.

Argentina: 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla; 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Alvaro Galindo, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.

Replacements: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Martin Rodriguez.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia). Kick-off: 5 pm.

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