Bok scrum must spoil ‘50th’

Cape Town – Argentina’s loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza is set to earn his 50th cap against South Africa at Salta on Saturday (21:40 SA time) ... and enter the game on a wave of confidence.

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

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

He gave the 55-cap Du Plessis -- who has been overplayed at both Super Rugby and Test level 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 also featuring his brother Bismarck and Tendai Mtawarira.

Ayerza has other reasons to treasure combat against the Boks, because it was against them that he made his Test debut a decade back in 2004, coming off the bench in Buenos Aires during a comfortable 39-7 visiting triumph; the starting Bok front rank at the time was Gurthro Steenkamp, John Smit and CJ van der Linde.

He is highly regarded in the English Premiership: after the 2012 season for instance, one London broadsheet newspaper described him as “far and away the outstanding loosehead in the competition”.

The prop would also have learnt plenty about the scrummaging trade during the eight years spent at Leicester by Argentinean-born tighthead cult figure Martin Castrogiovanni, who has earned 105 caps for Italy and currently represents Toulon.

A little gallingly, the present Pumas tighthead, Ramiro Herrera, is a relatively unsung, Argentine-based player who was earning only his third international appearance in Pretoria and maiden crack in the Championship.

So you might have expected better, frankly, from the established Bok alliance who have played so many Test and first-class matches together.

The ultimate snub for the Bok tight five as a whole (remember that it is an area South Africa usually prides itself on), perhaps, was the failure of any of them to crack a Rugby Championship team of the week in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald (www.smh.com.au) after the first round last weekend.

Instead the paper clearly picked up on the engine-room prowess of Ayerza and Herrera at Loftus by naming both, from the normally minnow Pumas, in their XV ahead of any of the Bok, Wallaby or All Black props.

The four South Africans to crack the nod, incidentally, were Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee, Willie le Roux and Cornal Hendricks.

As Ayerza contemplates his landmark game at Salta, perhaps it is a timely juncture for the Bok scrum to raise its game and act as an unsympathetic party-spoiler ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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