Cape Town – If the Springboks wish to serve genuine notice that their recent revival is sustainable, they must put away Argentina comfortably in Port Elizabeth on Saturday (17:05).
What “comfortably” means is a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string type of debate, of course, but a personal suggestion is that the hosts winning their Castle Rugby Championship opener by a margin of 12 points or more would amount to the best way to appease any people not yet wholly convinced that Allister Coetzee’s charges are ready to considered back among the very elite in the game.
As things stand, it is fifth entertaining ninth as far as the World Rugby rankings are concerned, and if South Africa struggle to subdue the Pumas at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium it will almost be a case of back to the drawing board after the strides made in the clean sweep of a jaded French team during June.
Although understandable - you have to be cautious of appearing too chipper or arrogant in lead-up week - it was noticeable that the Bok camp have been putting out the type of spin that amounts to standard, complimentary platitudes about their opponents.
Assistant coach Franco Smith, for example, made the point that although the visitors will overwhelmingly be made up of Jaguares players from Super Rugby, he believed they would bring something “very different” – or read by implication: more threatening – to the Test party in their Argentina shirts.
I believe it is called hedging your bets, don’t you?
Truth be told, the current Jaguares (er, sorry, Pumas) vintage doesn’t amount to the very best in Argentinean rugby history, especially as they appear to have lost much of the aura that once surrounded their feared “bajada” scrum ethic.
The situation is hardly helped - in a country where significant depth is clearly still an issue - by the ongoing policy (largely post-RWC 2015, as the Jaguares were spawned for Super Rugby) of overlooking foreign-based players for the national team.
It means that gnarly campaigners like Juan Figallo, the Saracens tighthead prop, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, the evergreen loose forward veteran at Toulon, and Juan Imhoff of Racing, the wing who dotted three tries in the Pumas’ first ever triumph over the Boks in Durban two years back, kick their heels while they watch their compatriots in action during the Championship again.
Yes, the Pumas have seasoned scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli back in their midst again after he quit the Brumbies and committed to the Jaguares from next season, but that advantage is wiped out, in many respects, by the surrender of that outstanding eighth-man prospect Facundo Isa, 23, to cash-flush Toulon.
Surely it can’t be deemed too inappropriate, under the circumstances, to weigh up the Jaguares’ performance in Super Rugby 2017 as a yardstick to their competitiveness in this year’s Championship?
If you do, it only suggests that the Springboks really should put away Argentina without too much trauma on Saturday.
Let’s put it another way: where does it leave the Boks if they noticeably labour to a win or are even pipped at the weekend, given the Jaguares’ effective, humdrum 10th-place finish in Super Rugby?
The South American franchise - although hardly helped by the brutal itinerary for them given their vast geographical distance from other participating countries in the six month-long competition – only won seven of 15 games in their second season, even if it was a considerable improvement on maiden 2016 (four).
Along the way, they encountered South African opposition nine times and won just three of those fixtures, one against a greatly weakened Lions outfit visiting Buenos Aires and the others against the Kings (PE, scene of this Saturday’s international showdown) and Cheetahs (Buenos Aires).
It is supposed to be an especially tough ask playing the Jaguares in their own habitat, but those six reverses even included two in the Argentinean metropolis – to the Sharks (33-25) and a particularly unexpected loss to the Kings (31-30).
The Jaguares can be a mood-driven team at times, but much the same traditionally applies to their national side.
And if people are going to suggest the Jaguares were constantly afflicted by ill-discipline during Super Rugby … well, almost all of the same “hotheads” will only have their composure levels examined on Saturday at an even higher level, won’t they?
I would agree with anyone who submitted that simply winning in the swift, Salta-based return match next Saturday would be a fair enough objective for the Springboks, but for the Friendly City this weekend?
South Africa must show who’s boss … and then some.
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing