If the recent past is anything to go by, South Africa will have to pass a stern test in order to seal victory in Argentina on Saturday.
If the recent past is anything to go by, South Africa will have to pass a stern examination in order to seal victory in Argentina on Saturday.
Since their Rugby Championship arrival, the Pumas have hosted the Springboks twice, with a 16-16 draw and narrow 22-17 loss being the results.
On both occasions South Africa have entered confident and both times they have gone home disappointed despite being undefeated. One feels this could again be the case as the Argentines on home soil – naming arguably an improved line-up that ran out in Pretoria – should push them close. Indeed, Argentina have decent odds for causing an upset at 15/4.
Let's be frank, the rain was a leveller at Loftus Versfeld but great teams adapt to such conditions and judging from their performance, South Africa did not give their expectant public great confidence in wet weather that they will battle with during next year's World Cup in England.
Falling short in their kicking game was an area the Boks were found wanting as Ruan Pienaar and HandrÃ¨ Pollard were put under a great deal of pressure by the Pumas, who adjusted the better to the rain. Opposing fly-half NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez's performance was a good indicator of that fact, with his confidence improving as the game wore on as he made the most metres for his side whilst beating more defenders than anyone at Loftus.
Sanchez is this week joined by 32-year-old Juan MartÃn HernÃ¡ndez in the home backline as El Mago returns after being a late withdrawal before Round One. And with Marcelo Bosch at outside centre, the Pumas arguably have more of a blend of variety than those Boks wearing 10, 12 and 13.
HernÃ¡ndez is not the only change to Argentina's backline as the elusive Lucas GonzÃ¡lez Amorosino comes into the back-three alongside JoaquÃn Tuculet and Manuel Montero at the expense of a benched Horacio Agulla. In 33Â°C heat and with 0% chance of rain, we can expect much more ball being seen by the trio and those opposing them – Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux – at the Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium.
It is difficult not to downplay the importance of this fixture for the Springboks. If they win, they will be two from two heading into big games against Australia in Perth and then New Zealand in Wellington. Lose and not only hopes of the Rugby Championship diminish but also confidence.
Questions are needing to be answered such as whether Pollard is the number one fly-half head coach Heyneke Meyer will go with next year, will Jaque Fourie ever be suitably replaced as a partner to Jean de Villiers, and if the Boks do have a Plan B when things, like last week, occur?
Going back to hopefully move forward subsequently sees flank Juan Smith this week recalled for one of the comeback stories of all comeback stories. His return after having medical experts advise him to stop playing only a few years ago has since seen him fight his way back and go on to win the Heineken Cup and Top 14 titles three months ago. If he can't inspire his team around him to improve and seize the moment then nothing will. Expect no sympathy from club-mate Juan MartÃn FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe mind.
Ones to watch:
For Argentina: El Mago hasn't reached the heights of his 2007 form for a good while but in a new position for his national side, Juan MartÃn HernÃ¡ndez's move to inside centre is an intriguing one. As happens with everyone, they lose a yard of speed as the years tot up, but HernÃ¡ndez has an opportunity to rediscover his intelligence in possession and also excellent kicking out of hand. If he plays well the Pumas do have a chance of recording victory on Saturday. His arrival also takes some of the pressure off NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez, who was solid last week.
For South Africa: November 2010 was the last time Juan Smith donned the green and gold so Saturday will be a special occasion for this hard-working flanker, who has fought like no other to get playing at any level, let alone on the international scene. It is an outstanding achievement from Smith as strong form for Toulon, where he got a second chance, has led to this call-up. Thankfully it is in his favoured position and not in the second-row where some had mooted. His experience will be invaluable and don't expect nothing less than 100 percent on his return.
Head-to-head: Two players who love to run clash on the wing in Salta as Lucas GonzÃ¡lez Amorosino and Bryan Habana face off. Amorosino, in for Horacio Agulla, was a surprise call from coach Daniel Hourcade but one that could pay off as the former Montpellier runner is superb when on top form. On a fast track expect these two to look for work and whoever wins their battle, the viewer will be smiling either way.
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: Drew 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
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
Prediction: Don't expect a runaway win for the Boks. Let's go for South Africa by 10!
Argentina: 15 JoaquÃn Tuculet, 14 Lucas GonzÃ¡lez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan MartÃn HernÃ¡ndez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 NicolÃ¡s SÃ¡nchez, 9 MartÃn Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel LeguizamÃ³n, 7 Juan MartÃn FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 TomÃ¡s Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 AgustÃn Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 MatÃas Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 MatÃas Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 TomÃ¡s Cubelli, 22 JerÃ³nimo de la Fuente, 23 Horacio Agulla.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 HandrÃ¨ Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 MornÃ© Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Date: Saturday, August 23
Kick-off: 16:10 local (20:10 BST, 19:10 GMT, 21:10 SAST)
Venue: Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium, Salta
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)