The Pumas' first home game of the Rugby Championship will be one to savour – but probably not for what happens on the pitch.
Forget last week. The moment all fans of Argentinean rugby have been waiting for is upon us. The Pumas' first home game of the Rugby Championship will be one to be remembered…
…but probably not for what happens on the pitch.
Many pundits have spoken of the “extra spice” Argentina would add to the southern hemisphere's annual showdown, yet, if truth be told, most would have expected the dull affair offered up in Cape Town last week.
Indeed, the 'spice' that everyone keeps on banging on about is certainly not going to come from the Pumas' style of play. But when 50,000 hinchas de los Pumas start singing and chanting at Esadio Malvinas Argentinas on Saturday, the uninitiated will find out what all the fuss is about. Rugby in these parts is all about passion – and there is plenty of it. The Springboks will feel very far from home.
The Pumas have never beaten South Africa in 14 attempts and if last week's clash is anything to go by, they might have to wait a while yet to claim their first win (the 14 consecutive Test victories over Argentina is a record for Springbok rugby. It is one better than the 13 against Wales).
The safe money is on another hard-fought slugfest between two teams that base their game on pressuring their opponents into errors with big forwards and accurate kicking. The Boks have bigger forwards (well, bigger everything, really) and better kickers. So they should win, that much is clear.
Pumas captain Juan MartÃn FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe admitted after last week's battle that he expects a similar game in Mendoza. Argentina don't have the personnel to drastically up the tempo and Heyneke Meyer's selection of Jacques Potgieter over Keegan Daniel indicates the Boks will play even more conservatively.
Meyer's decision to add another battering ram to his back row, despite the absence of Bismarck du Plessis's poaching skills, underlines the South Africans' single-minded approach. Expect to see the Springbok machine rumbling up Route One, as usual.
One of the aspects in which Argentina failed to get the upper hand last week was field position. They were pinned back in their own territory by a combination of errors (due to pressure from the Boks) and their own poor kicking, which often handed possession over too cheaply. If they are to have any hope, they cannot afford to allow Zane Kirchner to take easy marks in his 22 or send bombs into the air without a decent chase.
They were painfully predictable and with Juan Martin Hernandez ruled out, the lack of creativity is unlikely to improve. But if they can cut down on the penalties that led to almost all of the Springboks' points a week ago and maintain their intensity at the breakdown, we will have a proper game on our hands. Lest we forget that two of Argentina's last three matches against South Africa on home soil have been decided by less than ten points – while the hosts have put three tries past their illustrious visitors on each of those occasions.
As stated at various stages over the last fortnight, how the Boks fare hinges largely on MornÃ© Steyn, who will play in his 28th consecutive Test and is set to become South Africa's highest points scorer (the record of 210 career points is currently shared with Percy Montgomery). Steyn was excellent at Newlands but was seldom under pressure in front of a friendly home crown on a sunny, windless day.
The reception this time will be hostile, at best. And with the Zonda wind – which comes down off the snow-capped Andes Mountains not far away – bringing a real chill to the air, the Bulls kicker will be taken out of his comfort zone.
Although Springbok captain Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana are the only members of the team that have played Test rugby in Argentina before, three members of the starting XV – Adriaan Strauss, Ruan Pienaar and MornÃ© Steyn – were part of the SA U21 squad that won the IRB U21 World Championship in Mendoza in 2005, at the same stadium.
Another win seems on the cards for the visitors, but it won't come without a fight…no, make that a war!
Players to watch:
For Argentina: At the tender age of 23, young fly-half NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders. The loss one Juan Martin Hernandez is a massive blow and SÃ¡nchez must now fill some big boots in just his third Test. Read a full profile of Argentina's 10 here.
For South Africa: Hooker Adriaan Strauss must be experiencing a case of dÃ©jÃ vu. In 2005 he replaced the injured Bismarck du Plessis in the U21 squad that won in Mendoza. Seven years later and again he is tasked with filling in for his fellow Free State-born colleague. Strauss brings a different set of skills to the table but his role will be vitally important, not least of all because he also inherits the vice-captaincy. South African fans will be praying the Cheetahs hooker stays injury free because with Chiliboy Ralepelle also crocked, the stocks in the number two jersey are seriously depleted.
Head-to-head: A lot has been said about the Pumas scrum but without retired stalwarts Mario Ledesma and MartÃn Scelzo, their front row just isn't the same. Nevertheless they pride themselves on their set piece and the battle at scrum time is set to be vicious. The front row in green and gold probably won the contest at Newlands so Saturday's hosts will want to even the score.
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
2004: South Africa won 39-7 in Buenos Aires
2003: South Africa won 26-25 in Port Elizabeth
2002: South Africa won 49-29 in Springs
2000: South Africa won 37-33 in Buenos Aires
1996: South Africa won 44-21 in Buenos Aires
1996: South Africa won 46-15 in Buenos Aires
1994: South Africa won 46-26 in Johannesburg
1994: South Africa won 42-22 in Port Elizabeth
1993: South Africa won 52-23 in Buenos Aires
Prediction: In two Tests in Mendoza, Argentina are currently unbeaten but South Africa's 14/0 record against their hosts is hard to argue against. Also, the Boks have lost just once in 12 Tests refereed by Steve Walsh. With similar game plans on offer, we don't feel Argentina have enough beef to match the Boks' muscle. South Africa by ten points in a low-scoring game.
Argentina: 15 MartÃn RodrÃguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago FernÃ¡ndez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez, 9 NicolÃ¡s