History will be made at Newlands in Cape Town when the southern hemisphere triumvirate becomes four on Saturday.
History will be made at Newlands in Cape Town when the southern hemisphere triumvirate becomes four on Saturday as South Africa plays host to newcomers Argentina.
It's been a long wait, but finally the Pumas will break new ground when they face the Springboks in this weekend's second highly-anticipated match of the inaugural Rugby Championship.
My colleague Adam said in his Oz v NZ preview that it was fitting the trans-Tasman rivals get to kick-off this new era in world rugby. But even though it may cost me a cup of his finest tea, I tend to disagree. Whilst watching a Bledisloe Cup battle between the two sides is always a spectacle in its own right, we've seen it all before.
Not only are Argentina a breath of fresh air to the expanded competition, but there's also a mysterious quality about them and what they will bring to the party as up until now we haven't seen them in a major tournament besides the RWC.
The men in blue and white hoops may not have reached the same status as they did at the 2007 World Cup (where they finished third), but will still add a much-needed splash of colour to the tournament formerly known as the Tri-Nations.
Of course the big question on everyone's lips is whether they'll sink or swim. Odds are with the former, especially away from home, but you can bet your bottom dollar they'll give it their best shot when they open their campaign against the more fancied Springboks.
Even after a lacklustre draw with England and coach Heyneke Meyer's persistence to field an out-of-form pivot, South Africa are still overwhelming favourites to beat the Pumas.
Indeed, there were mixed reactions following the Springboks' 2-0 series victory over the touring English in June. Meyer's troops impressed in the second half in Durban and dominated proceedings in the first half of the second Test in Johannesburg.
But in all three Tests, there were moments where plans and tactics were executed poorly because of individual errors and team inconsistencies – especially when it came to the breakdown battle and kicking game.
The Boks will have to up their game if they want to firstly keep their unbeaten record against Argentina intact, and secondly, compete in the Rugby Championship with an All Black team who laid down the gauntlet with an ominous 60-0 victory over Ireland to wrap up their series.
Complacency could prove to be the biggest hazard of playing against an Argentina squad who have passion by the bucketload, and who are expected to pose a physical as well as a tactical challenge.
The Pumas play straightforward, honest rugby but can still pose the risk of taking their opponents by surprise and South Africa will need to keep a watchful eye on Argentina's back three – who have a useful turn of pace – as well as a pack famed for its scrummaging and mauling.
Ones to watch:
For South Africa: Morne Steyn has come under heavy criticism of late – not only for the Bok pivot's goal-kicking failures (he missed 12 out of 20 attempts in the Test series against England), but also his all-round play. However, listening to Heyneke Meyer at a media gathering earlier this week, the new Bok boss' confidence in his number ten remains high and he is optimistic that the break Steyn had after the Bulls' Super Rugby exit (his first in three seasons) will rejuvenate him. Also keep an eye on number eight Keegan Daniel who gets a first start in the green and gold due to a tournament-ending injury to Pierre Spies. Some believe Spies's injury is a blessing in disguise as it now gives the less physically imposing Daniel a chance to show that dynamite comes in small packages.
For Argentina: The Pumas' second most-capped forward Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe brings an enormous wealth of experience, and was an obvious choice to take over the captaincy from a possibly retired Felipe Contepomi. The number eight is the heartbeat of this Argentina side, but it will be fascinating to see how he goes in a competition of this stature and level. A player noted for his tireless work-rate around the pitch, Lobbe is the Pumas' go-to man who is capable of matching or even going one better than his opponents in the loose forward department.
Head to head: Argentina as a country are famous for its beef, and the same goes for their rugby team's front-row who have proved to be a cut above the rest at scrum-time. The selection of three props to tackle the Springboks suggests the visitors are going to do their level best to retain a proud tradition for strong scrummaging. The Du Plessis brothers and Beast Mtwarira have combined into a solid if not spectacular front-row with enough experience and competency to gain at least parity in most situations, but face a real test of their mettle when the time comes to crouch, touch, pause and engage. It should be an intriguing battle…
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: Argentina's debut in the revamped southern hemisphere tournament on Saturday is already a winning result in itself. Arguably everyone besides South Africans would love to see the South Americans pick up an upset win in their first outing, but we just don't see it happening. South Africa to play party poopers and win by nine points!
South Africa: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Jacques Potgieter, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Pat Lambie, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Argentina: 15 Lucas GonzÃ¡lez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago FernÃ¡ndez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Juan MartÃn HernÃ¡ndez, 9 NicolÃ¡s Vergallo, 8 Juan MartÃn FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe (c), 7 Ãlvaro Galindo, 6 Julio FarÃas Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio GuiÃ±azÃº, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan