Alan Solomons welcomes the entry of Argentina to the Rugby Championship and foresees a competitive Test today

2012-08-18 00:00

IN my view, the inception of the Rugby Championship is a very good move. I believe bringing in Argentina will freshen things up considerably.

Although the Pumas didn’t have as good a run at the 2011 World Cup as they did in 2007, they deserve their place in the competition and are a good team and certainly belong in the top-tier of world rugby.

In 2007, under the leadership of Agustin Pichot, Argentina had a well-balanced side. While they have lost a bit of that experience — Felipe Contepomi most notably — the return from injury of Juan Martin Hernandez is a major fillip.

Hernandez has suffered several injuries in recent times, and hasn’t played as much as he would have liked, but is a class player with plenty of flair.

He is certainly a different type of flyhalf to Morné Steyn. Steyn is certainly more of the traditional 10, with an ability to control the game with a fairly educated boot.

But Steyn perhaps doesn’t have the same degree of flair and attacking ability Hernandez has.

The Pumas always boast a solid pack of forwards, a steady scrum and are effective maulers.

What makes the famed “bajada” scrum so effective is the breathing mechanism they employ. Everything is arrowed towards the hooker, and they have been enormously successful with the techniques they have adopted.

I’m not surprised to see Argentina have selected a former prop in Eusebio Guinazu at hooker. Former Pumas great Federico Mendez started his career as a prop, and then shifted to hooker. It’s clear they favour a big, physical bruiser in the hooking position.

That said, the Bok forward pack is more than imposing in their own right. The front five, fronted by an all-Sharks front row, is outstanding. Andries Bekker will make a big impact on his return to the side for the first time since 2010.

Twenty-year-old Eben Etzebeth complements Bekker and they form a solid combination. He may still be young, but already strikes a fine balance between his role as the enforcer and an athletic lock.

Pierre Spies’s tournament-ending injury has opened the door to the talented Keegan Daniel.

With a bruising pack in front of him, I feel Daniel will be afforded the opportunity to play his natural game and be free to roam the field. He is a highly skilful player with great vision.

While some may regard him as too small for Test rugby, I expect him to do very well this weekend.

Willem Alberts adds real steel to the Bok pack, and will in tandem with Marcell Coetzee cause the Pumas a real headache.

However, I believe the Boks will edge the physical stakes as far as the points of collision are concerned.

Similarly, in the backline, Frans Steyn’s presence at inside centre will get the Boks over the advantage line and generate momentum for them to play off. I expect the Boks to play to their traditional style: gain territorial ascendancy, secure possession, generate momentum and then earn the right to go wide.

SA fundamentally play a territorial game and I think Morné Steyn is very much part and parcel of that. The Boks will certainly aim to play in Argentina’s half, and once they do they will be intent on keeping possession. I expect the Boks to edge both territory and possession.

It’s quite a daunting task for Argentina to play SA away in their opening fixture, but they will certainly be up for the game, which will be competitive, combative and highly physical. That said, I’m predicting SA to win by no less than 15 points.

Casting an eye to the Wallabies clash with the All Blacks I expect the All Blacks to have too much muscle in the forwards, despite home ground advantage, .

In the backs, the injury to Conrad Smith is a big loss for the All Blacks, as the influence he exerts at outside centre is remarkable. However, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams are certainly a highly physical, mean-looking centre pairing.

Expect the All Blacks to win the game, but by no more than 10 points.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ director of rugby and is a consultant to the International Rugby Board.

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