Argentina eye maiden Rugby Championship win
August 15, 2013
Argentina found it hard going in last season's Rugby Championship but they managed to secure a draw against the Boks © PA Photos
Head to Head
This weekend sees the start of the second Rugby Championship and all eyes will be on Soweto come Saturday afternoon as South Africa open their campaign against Argentina.
Argentina battled well in the inaugural tournament last year but a first win in the Championship escaped them. The closest they came was against the Springboks when they drew 16-16 in Mendoza. But despite their lack of a victory, the Pumas drew widespread admiration for their displays in the Championship.
But this year, passion will count for nothing if they do not get that maiden victory. Their form in the lead-up to the tournament has been mixed. They fell to back-to-back Test losses to England in June, though admittedly both teams were playing with weakened sides, but managed to find some swagger when they defeated a New South Wales Barbarians side 29-27 and then 58-12.
However, the Springboks will be an all together different proposition. Heyneke Meyer is now in his second term as South Africa boss and the honeymoon period is definitely over. Meyer's team will now be judged by results and any argument they are still finding the right blend ahead of the 2015 World Cup is likely to fall on deaf ears.
South Africa hosted the Quadrangular Tournament in June and they eased past Italy 44-10, Scotland 30-17 and Samoa 56-23 to take the competition. They look to be finding their rhythm and a general understanding under Meyer but the forthcoming tournament will test their mettle.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Adriaan Strauss has the potential to be the next John Smit for the Springboks. A physical and efficient hooker, Strauss has got the nod over Bismarck du Plessis which is testament to his huge ability. You better get used to seeing Strauss at No.2 for the Boks as he looks set to be staying there for a while.
South Africa - Team News: Meyer has made two changes to the side that beat Samoa in the final game of the Quadrangular tournament. Duane Vermeulen gets the nod at No.8 while Juandre Kruger is named in the second-row. With Vermeulen and Kruger in the side, Flip van der Merwe drops to the bench to make way for the lock while the No.8 starts in place of the injured Pierre Spies. And joining Van der Merwe on the bench are experienced duo prop Gurthro Steenkamp and scrum-half Fourie du Preez. The No.9 last played for the Springboks during the 2011 World Cup while Steenkamp turned out against England in 2012.
Bryan Habana will want to impress for the Boks © Getty Images
Argentina - Player to Watch: Juan Martin Hernandez's unpredictability is equally infuriating and exhilarating. The mercurial Pumas international starts at fullback on Saturday having played much of last season's campaign at fly-half. If he stays injury free and finds his swagger, then Hernandez could be one of the players of the Championship.
Argentina - Team News: In a massive blow for the Pumas, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe misses out due to injury so Worcester's Leonardo Senatore stats in the back-row. He is partnered by Juan Martin Leguizamon and Pablo Matera while Patricio Albacete and Manuel Carizza form the second-row. In the front-row, Matias Diaz starts in place of the injured Marcos Ayerza with Bath's Eusebio Guinazu and Juan Figallo joining him. At half-back Martin Landajo and Nicolas Sanchez link-up with the timeless Felipe Contepomi skippering the team at inside centre. Marcelo Bosch is at No.13 while the back three sees Juan Imhoff, Gonzalo Camacho and Hernandez start.
Key Battle: The match-up at inside centre should be fascinating. It's free running Boks captain Jean de Villiers against the veteran skipper Felipe Contepomi. The Pumas captain seems to have been around since William Webb Ellis first picked up a ball and ran with it but he can still cut it at the highest level and his battle against De Villiers is worth keeping an eye on.
Trivia: Saturday's game in Soweto will be the Test played at the joint highest altitude throughout the Championship. The FNB Stadium is at 1743 metres above sea level, the same altitude as Ellis Park.
Stats: Since Fourie du Preez last played for the Springboks, seven players in the Boks' 23-man squad made their debut under Meyer. They are: Jan Serfontein, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, Juandre Kruger, Eben Etzebeth, JJ Engelbrecht and Willie le Roux. If Conrad Oosthuizen gets his chance from the bench before Du Preez then it will be eight.
"I think it was clear last year that the Argentinians are not in the Rugby Championship to make up the numbers, which means we will have to be focused on doing the little things right. They've been together for a few weeks now and will be a tough opponent on Saturday." - Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer
"You just can't let him get over the ball, you can't give him a chance because he will punish you. We've just got to make sure that our ball-carriers stay on their feet for as long as possible, that they don't get isolated and Flo comes into play." - Argentina hooker Eusebio Guinazu on the threat of Francois Louw
Betting: Given Argentina's, namely Hernandez, liking for a drop-goal, odds of 28-1 with bet365 on the first scoring play being one of these from the Pumas is a good bet. And we feel, although we tip a South Africa win below, odds of 6/1 on Argentina to win is also worth a few coins.
Prediction: It will be another case of a valiant effort from Argentina but one that will end up in a loss. South Africa should open up their campaign with a win of 7-10 points.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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