Puma power

2007-10-03 13:47

Chris Hewitt

The Boks emerged relatively unscathed from their pool, unbeaten, three games from glory.

They are in the last eight and deserve to be there. But that's where it ends. The talk of a routine stroll to the final and a generous draw are as misguided as pie in a blue and white sky.

The story of the World Cup has been Argentina, but this is no Cinderella story. Routine demolitions of France and Ireland, nations who both knocked over Jake White's Boks last year have painted a very different truth.

Anything but underdogs, the Argies are the real deal. And the Boks will have to be at their absolute best to beat them.

First, however, is the small matter of the quarter-finals.

'Never assume anything in rugby' is wise counsel, but it would take more than a miracle for Fiji to overcome Jake's side or for Scotland to derail Argentina in the last eight encounters this weekend.

Neither Fiji nor Scotland have shown anything in their pool games to suggest they have anything close to the firepower needed to oust either of their southern hemisphere opponents.

If the Boks learn from the wallies who paraded as Wales at this tournament, they'll know if they play Sevens rugby against the Sevens masters they're asking for it.

If they keep it close to the pack, play direct and stick to traditional South African strengths the result will be a semi-final spot.

And that is where the true test will wait.

Argentina will bring more than passion and a pack who can scrum. They possess a grizzled tight five and a loose forward trio who were able to harass and disrupt the physical French for the entire 80 minutes of their World Cup opener.

Potent backline

In scrumhalf Augustin Pichot, the Pumas have their patron and arguably the only challenger to Fourie du Preez for the title of finest No 9 on the planet.

Juan Hernandez's three drop goals against Ireland combined with his incisive marshalling of a potent backline combine to provide a real threat, whilst the Contepomi brothers share a midfield and telepathic understanding.

Ignacio Corleto has been the tournament's stand-out fullback thus far, proving rock-solid under the high ball with a keen sense of positional play and a booming boot.

In the press, the Boks' focus will be Fiji. The talk will be about the next day and the preparations for the quarter-final. But White, Eddie Jones and company will already be assessing the challenge that the Pumas present. And they'll know that passage through to the final will be anything but safe.

The All Blacks have been handed the tougher draw, with France and probably Australia standing between them and their first World Cup final appearance since Ellis Park in 1995.

But the Boks need not feel blessed. They are not on easy street. If they are to win this tournament, they'll have to knock over the tournament's form side to earn the chance to challenge for the title.

Argentina are ranked fourth in the world. Argentina will be in the last four, and it will take something special from White's Boks to prevent them going further.

  • Chris is Chief Rugby Writer at Sports Illustrated and a former SAB Rookie Sports Journalist of the Year.

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