History beckons for Pumas
August 16, 2012
It will be a historic occasion for Horacio Agulla and the rest of his team on Saturday © Getty Images
Argentina will make their long-awaited debut in a major annual competition when they tackle South Africa in the Rugby Championship in Cape Town on Saturday.
It will be the first time that the Pumas have taken their place alongside the big three from the southern hemisphere in the newly expanded Tri-Nations. It has been mooted for a while but come late afternoon on Saturday, all eyes will be on Newlands to see how Santiago Phelan's charges perform.
They've done well on rugby's biggest stage in the past finishing third in the 2007 World Cup and getting knocked out by the imperious All Blacks at the quarter-final stage of the 2011 competition. But this tournament will provide a real test of the Pumas' metal. They lost and then won against Stade Francais in their two warm-up matches in late July and August and before that drew a Test series against France. But the Springboks in front of their home crowd will be a different match altogether.
Heyneke Meyer's charges defeated England 2-0 in their three-Test series back in June but this tournament will be the first time Meyer has taken his side up against one of their southern hemisphere rivals. They have not lifted the tournament title since 2009 so expect the South African crowd to be on their back if they fail to impress in their opener against the Pumas.
South Africa - Player to Watch: Andries Bekker is back in the green of South Africa for the first time in two years and is under pressure to step into the vast void left by Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha. With Matfield retired and Botha over in France, Bekker is now the main man in the second-row with the relative newcomers to the Test scene Eben Etzebeth and Juandre Kruger his lieutenants.
South Africa - Team News: Pierre Spies is out for the whole of the Championship so Keegan Daniel starts at No.8 with Marcell Coetzee and Willem Alberts packing down in the back-row. Bekker and Etzebeth - both Stormers - get the nod in the second-row with Meyer opting for an all-Sharks front-row with Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis and Tandai Mtawarira all getting the nod. It's an all Bulls half-back combination with Francois Hougaard starting alongside Morne Steyn. Frans Steyn will earn his 50th cap for the Boks when he starts in the centres with skipper Jean de Villiers. Lwazi Mvovo, Bryan Habana and Zane Kirchner are the chosen back three.
Argentina - Player to Watch: It has to be that man - El Magico - Juan Martin Hernandez. He is back in the Pumas shirt for the first time since 2009 and on his day, he is mesmeric. He pulled the strings with consummate ease back in 2007 from fly-half and Argentina will hoping for more of the same from him on Saturday.
Argentina - Team News: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino starts at fullback for the Pumas with Gonzalo Camacho and Horacio Agulla on the wings. Marcelo Bosch and Santiago Fernandez get the nod in the centres with Hernandez and Nicolas Vergallo at half-back. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe skippers the side from No.8 with Alvaro Galindo and Julio Farias Cabello packing down alongside him. The second-row sees Patricio Albacete and Manuel Carizza link up with Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu and veteran Rodrigo Roncero forming the front-row.
Key Battle: The game will be won and lost in the back-row. The Boks may feel Spies' absence at No.8 with Daniel more lightweight but with Coetzee and Alberts alongside him, Daniel will have the support of their power. Lobbe is the standout player in the Pumas' back-row but he will need Cabello - who performed well in the World Cup - and Galindo to be at their best. Alberts and Coetzee were superb against England and showed why the Boks aren't feeling the absence of Schalk Burger and Juan Smith as much as people expected they would.
Heyneke Meyer alongside his skipper Jean de Villiers © Getty Images
Trivia: Morne Steyn will go joint top as South Africa's most capped fly-half when he takes to the field on Saturday. He will go level with Butch James on 33 appearances as starting No.10 for the Boks.
Stats: Argentina's record against their three opponents in the tournament will not provide them with much optimism. They have played Australia, South Africa and New Zealand on 48 occasions and have won just four of the matches.
"Argentina will be fired up as they are making their debut in Rugby Championship and we know they will be a tough opponent on Saturday." - Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer
"Sitting here today, we're about to live through something that we haven't previously experienced. Obviously, this curiosity brings on adrenaline, excitement, expectation and desire, but the truth is that we still don't know for sure what it will be like to play in it " - Argentina boss Santiago Phelan
Prediction: Argentina will stay within touching distance of the Boks for about 60 minutes with South Africa running in a couple of late scores to give the scoreboard a one-sided feel.
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