Can Argentina bag a second-straight win over South Africa when they host Saturday’s critical pre-World cup clash in Buenos Aires?
‘Critical’ is hardly a word you’d usually associate with a fixture that has no silverware or championship points riding on it, but in light of last week’s upset in Durban, the Springboks will be desperate to halt their slump and finally get some positive momentum ahead of the big event in England, which is now just a little over a month away.
Win or lose at Vélez Sarsfield this weekend, Heyneke Meyer will probably want to have a quiet whiskey when it’s all over. It’s been one of those weeks.
The Springboks have lost four straight Tests for the first time since 2010 and they had not lost four in a row against different opponents since 1965. Judging by their last three visits to Argentina, putting a halt to that run won’t be easy, especially since they have not taken their strongest side across the Atlantic.
During the Meyer era, the Boks have escaped with two narrow wins (22-17 in 2013 and 33-31 last year) and a draw (16-all in 2012) when visiting the Pumas and on all three occasions they’ve suffered heavily in the set-pieces and the general collisions, as they did last week. Morné Steyn’s boot won’t be around to save them this time, so they will hope Pat Lambie is on song.
There are various reasons why the Boks were so convincingly beaten last week, but they will take heart from the fact that most of them can be remedied.
Complaints that all the players felt “flat” after an extremely hard week of pre-RWC physical conditioning would have been taken into account. With so much to prove and a handful of players fighting for places in the World Cup squad, there should be no lack of intensity. There certainly shouldn’t be a dip from the locals, who will no doubt be fired up in front of their very vocal fans.
Crucially, this week’s referee, Glen Jackson, is from the southern hemisphere. Without some of their usual big ball carriers, the Boks struggled when drawn into the kind of arm wrestle that the Pumas can create under northern interpretations of the ruck laws.
The return of Willem Alberts will also add some beef to the Bok pack and – assuming he is at his full capacity of a long layoff – he should be able to provide some of the impetus that was lacking at Kings Park, even though he is not expected to last beyond half-time.
Meyer spoke this week of playing “more tactically”, essentially saying they had erred in trying to play an open, ball-in-hand game when they should have kicked more.
“I have tried to play crowd pleasing rugby… This past Saturday we tried to play rugby and kicked the ball only seven times, which should have pleased those who want us to play attractive rugby, but we got well beaten. Winning is what it is about and we need to become more tactical in order to do that,” he said.
The Pumas back three can expect a busy afternoon. That attitude has also informed the selections of Lambie and Zane Kirchner at full-back. Kirchner is a favourite punching bag for South African armchair critics, but he has been in good form for Leinster and is reliable under the high ball.
Most importantly, Meyer will demand a tighter defensive performance. Argentina managed eight clean breaks from just 67 carries in their win in South Africa last weekend, an average of one every 8.4 carries. It was three more than the Springboks, who made 110 carries, or a break every 22 carries.
The Pumas will obviously want to build on that performance, and have been able to strengthen their side with the return of world-class performers like Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe.
Having beaten Australia last year, Argentina have won three of their last five Tests at this venue, all against tier one nations. Another big win and they will head to England with a spring in their step and dreams of bettering their heroics of 2007.
2015: Argentina won 37-25 in Durban
2014: South Africa won 33-31 in Salta
2014: South Africa won 13-6 in Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 22-17 in Mendoza
2013: South Africa won 73-13 in Soweto
2012: Draw 16-16 in Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6 in Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 63-9 in Johannesburg
2007: South Africa won 37-13 in Paris (RWC)
2005: South Africa won 34-23 in Buenos Aires
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Legiuzamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Benjamin Macome, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Lucas González Amorosino
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Pat Lambie, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Jan Serfontein
Date: Saturday, August 15
Venue: Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 16:40 local (19:40 GMT, 21:40 SAST)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)