Springboks favourites against travelling Pumas
August 15, 2014
Willie le Roux will be aiming to continue the fine form he showed in the June Tests © Getty Images
While all eyes during this first Rugby Championship weekend appear to be on Sydney and Australia's attempt to wrest the Bledisloe Cup from New Zealand's grasp, Argentina make the long flight to South Africa looking for their first ever victory against the Springboks. The Pumas' pitiful record against their hosts - played 17, lost 16, drawn one - means the contest may be a little more one-sided than the Australasian clash earlier in the day, but Daniel Hourcade's men know that Test-match rugby is never a foregone conclusion.
That said, it would come as a real shock to see Argentina turn over South Africa in Pretoria. The solitary draw in 2012 is the only positive in an otherwise terrible run of results for the Pumas against the Springboks and, although they showed signs of improvement against Ireland earlier this summer, they know South Africa are strong favourites for the win.
Buoyed by the return of captain Jean de Villiers, the South Africans boast a number of players who led the stats tables for the 2013 tournament. De Villiers, Willie le Roux and Duane Vermeulen were all key men last term and once again feature in Saturday's starting XV. Throw into that mix the young Handre Pollard at fly-half and head coach Heyneke Meyer has himself an impressive line-up.
Last time these sides met in South Africa, the Springboks won by an eye-watering 60 points. The return leg in Argentina was closer, but Meyer will certainly fancy a 17th win over the visitors in Pretoria.
Damian de Allende will be handed his first cap when he takes his place in the centres on Saturday. The 22-year-old made huge strides for the Stormers in the second-half of the Super Rugby season and has been rewarded with a role alongside club-mate De Villiers, whose presence will surely help him ease into the Test fray.
Looking at Argentina, it is tricky to single out their in-form player, given that only three of Saturday's XV started in their last Test - against Scotland in June. Nicolas Sanchez however, retains the No.10 jersey and his understanding with half-back partner Martin Landajo will be key to building on Argentina's traditional strength in the scrum.
Handre Pollard is given the nod over Morne Steyn to pull the strings behind the Springbok pack and the youngster will have to perform if he is to keep the veteran fly-half on the bench. Pollard shone during the Junior World Championship earlier this year and has since been fast-tracked into the senior squad. But, although he looked good in his previous Springbok outing against a tired Scotland side, the Rugby Championship is a different level and the spotlight will be on the 20-year-old.
Key area to watch
The back row. Argentina are without one of their stand-out performers from the June Tests, with No.8 Benjamin Macome ruled out of Saturday's fixture. South Africa, on the other hand, can call upon the excellent trio of Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw. While Argentina are traditionally strong in the tight-five, they could see their loose forwards swept aside by the Springbok unit.
In their nine home matches since the start of 2013, South Africa have scored at least three tries in each match, averaging 5.4 tries per game.
Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez made (69) and missed (17) more tackles than any other player from any nation in the 2013 Rugby Championship
South Africa are almost certain to take the win, but it is unlikely to be by 60 points this time. Argentina even managed to outscore South Africa on the try-count when the sides met in Mendoza last year, so a more likely results is a Springbok victory by 20.
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