Pumas’ Ayerza looking good as he dominates the scrum

2014-08-21 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Argentina’s loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza is set to earn his 50th cap against South Africa at Salta on Saturday (9.40 pm SA time) and enter the game on a wave of confidence.

The Pumas may have lost their Rugby Championship first-round clash 13-6 in the heavy rain and hail at Loftus last weekend, but they earned bragging rights at scrum time.

Ayerza, like so many European-based team-mates, often plies his club trade in grim conditions, as he is on the books of English Premiership side Leicester, so the deluge would only have lifted his motivation against Springbok tighthead Jannie du Plessis.

He gave the 55-cap Du Plessis — who has been overplayed this year and seemed to show it — a torrid time at some of the set-pieces, but much the same applied to the rest of the all-Sharks front row, which featured Jannie’s brother Bismarck and Tendai Mtawarira.

Ayerza has other reasons to treasure combat against the Boks — it was against them that he made his Test debut a decade ago in 2004, coming off the bench in Buenos Aires during a 39-7 visiting triumph.

Ayerza is highly regarded in the English Premiership. After the 2012 season, a London newspaper described him as “far and away the outstanding loosehead in the competition”. The prop would also have learnt plenty during the eight years spent at Leicester, from Argentinean-born tighthead cult figure Martin Castrogiovanni, who has earned 105 caps for Italy and now represents Toulon.

The present Pumas tighthead, Ramiro Herrera, is a relatively unsung Argentine-based player who was earning only his third international appearance in Pretoria and a maiden crack in the Championship. So you might have expected better from the established Bok alliance who have played so much together.

The ultimate snub for the Bok tight five, perhaps, was the failure of any of them to crack a Rugby Championship team of the week in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald after the first round last weekend. Instead, the paper named Ayerza and Herrera in their XV ahead of any Bok, Wallaby or All Black props. The South Africans to crack the nod were Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks.

Perhaps it is a timely juncture for the Bok scrum to raise their game and act as party spoilers.

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