Anything but easy

2007-10-11 08:08

Chris Hewitt

The perception among those wearing Springbok green, players and fans alike, is that Argentina pose little threat to the aspirations of returning the Webb Ellis Cup to South African soil.

The reality is that Jake White's side will have to deliver their performance of the tournament to progress to the final. There will be nothing routine about this.

In among the euphoria surrounding the Australian and All Black exits, it's been assumed that destiny has determined that White's warriors and World Cup winners will become synonymous.

In among all the optimism and hype, it's been forgotten what qualities it takes to win the damn thing: resolute defence, and an inspired flyhalf.

And Argentina have them both.


The Boks have conceded eight tries at this World Cup, despite playing only one of the game's recognised giants in England.

The Pumas have conceded three, having overcome France, Ireland and Scotland.

The Boks have Butch James at 10, who thus far has produced at the World Cup but still retains obvious tactical and technical limitations when it comes to his kicking game.

The Pumas have Juan Hernandez, the stand-out pivot in the competition, whose combination with scrumhalf Augustin Pichot has been unrivalled in tactical ruthlessness.

These are no underdogs. Allied with their powerful pack, renowned scrum and passion for their nation, Argentina have the ingredients to not only knock over the Boks, but to win the World Cup as well.

So what can the Boks expect?

The Pumas will play very little rugby in their own half. With Pichot and Hernandez firing, the Boks can expect a kaleidoscope of kicks, ranging from touchfinders to high-balls on Percy Montgomery as well as kicks in behind JP Pietersen.

Slow poison

The blue and white army will chase for their lives, attempting to compete in the air wherever possible and put in massive hits when not. They'll attempt to force the turnover, and in doing so win the psychological and physical battle.

When they secure the ball in the Boks' half, the method will be slow poison and not quick kill.

Slow ball management will be employed. It's low risk, and the Pumas have the players to execute it. There'll be pick-and-go's-a-plenty, and a whole lot of tackles to make.

They'll attempt to frustrate the more fancied Boks, hoping to win penalties for their dead-eye goalkicker Felipe Contepomi or work into a position where Hernandez can unleash a drop goal deluge.

Whether the Boks live or die depends on how they respond to such a strategy.

Two players become critical: Montgomery and Fourie du Preez.

Monty will have to be defensively inspired to counter the bombardment that will undoubtedly be unleashed. If he fumbles those high kicks, fails to assist the defensively-frail-when-turned Pietersen or if his left boot isn't booming in response, the Pumas will win enough territory to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Better pack

Du Preez's role will be that of pressure release valve.

A forgotten fact of the England 36-0 triumph was that the Boks were dominated at scrum-time. The Boks can expect more of the same from Argentina who possess a better pack, and therefore know they'll be defending for a fair bit.

Du Preez possesses the tactical game to hurt the Pumas. Instead of being suckered into running it from everywhere, which is exactly what Argentina's defence will be primed for, Du Preez can disrupt their plan by pinning them back.

The crucial consideration will be whether he can get enough hang-time on his kicks. If he can, and Pietersen, Bryan Habana and Jaque Fourie have the time to get under the ball and contest, the Boks will disrupt the Puma rhythm so evident at this World Cup by being the first side to play them at their own game.

The alternative is clearing to touch, to bring the Boks' biggest strength to the fore: their lineout. It seems obvious, but if what was delivered against Fiji is any indication, is often forgotten.


Sunday provides a unique opportunity for the Boks. With the Aussies and Kiwis gone, seldom will they ever be in a better position to win the World Cup.

Equally, though, seldom will they have to play better to win a Test match of this magnitude.

Don't expect a win South Africa. If it happens, celebrate.

This will be anything but routine.

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

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    AB praises selfless skipper

    2010-11-21 18:15

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