Preview: South Africa v Argentina

Date published: August 7 2015

Anything other than a comprehensive victory for South Africa in Saturday's Rugby Championship clash against Argentina must be considered a serious setback.

Don't let anyone tell you that this weekend's result in Durban is inconsequential. The Rugby Championship title may not be on the line and the ultimate goal is without doubt the World Cup, but the best way to prepare any team – in any sport – for any goal, is to build confidence.

And the best way to do that, is to win. For a team that has now lost three Tests in a row – and four of their last six – a big fat 'W' in results column will come very welcome.

Indeed, the end result at Kings Park is massively important. The Boks will tell themselves they should have beaten both the Wallabies and the All Blacks. Rightly so, for an hour in both games they were the better side and with just a sprinkling of better luck, they'd be playing for silverware this weekend. 

But they lost. And losing – irrespective of the circumstances – has a negative effect on self belief. Losing plants seeds of doubt and Argentina are just the kind of side that love to drag you into the kind of tight spot where those seeds can grow. 

South Africa have not lost four in a row against four different nations since 1965. No matter how well the Boks played last week, defeat this weekend would not only be a massive blow to team morale, it would create an uproar in the Republic. 

Heyneke Meyer is well aware of all of these things, and as a result has not pushed the boundaries of experimentation against a Pumas side that twice came very close to causing an upset against South Africa last year.

"If it wasn't South Africa you probably could have played a lot of players, but in South Africa you have to win. That’s most important," said Meyer this week. 

So, for the sake of continuity, Handre Pollard and Ruan Pienaar pair up again, meaning Pat Lambie and Cobus Reinach will ride the bench in their home stadium. Bismarck du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira have started every game this year and they do so again for the same reason. This list goes on. 

Los Pumas have taken a very different approach, and although this is probably the strongest team they've lined up in the Championship so far, it still isn't their complete first XV. 

But that has always been the plan as they've looked to manage their players carefully with next week's clash back on home soil – when they're likely to face a below-strength South African team – earmarked as the game when all their prep work comes together. 

This is nevertheless a very good side and based on those close calls last year, they will harbour quiet ambitions of snatching their first ever win over the Boks in 19 attempts. 

Lest we forget just how much the Springboks have struggled against Argentina in recent years. South Africa have failed to score more than one try in three of their last five games against the Pumas. If the truth be told, they were plain lucky to escape with a positive result from their visit to Salta last time out. 

That said, based on last week's efforts by these teams against New Zealand and Australia respectively, the Springboks should hope for a solid win. 

Much has been made of the new-found attacking spirit shown by the Boks, but they are still the tournament's best defensive side in terms of both tackle success rate and turnovers won. Significantly, Argentina have the worst record in both those departments. 

Here are two stats you would never associate with these teams under normal circumstances: South Africa have the worst lineout success this year and are they only team yet to steal an opposition throw, while the Pumas have the worst ball retention rate at the scrum in the competition thus far. 

Meyer and co. will be far more concerned with their team's inability to go the distance. They didn't score a single point in the final quarter of either of their previous two games while conceding a total of 24. 

With time running out for fringe players to make an impression, the last 20 minutes this week could be incredibly influential in the final selection of South Africa's World Cup squad. 

Players to watch:

For South Africa: All eyes will be on Jean de Villiers, who makes his long-awaited but perhaps premature return to the Test arena. JDV has followed up a cameo off the bench against the World XV with two Currie Cup warm-up games for Western Province and while he has made huge improvements each week, it's fair to say he is still some way off his best form. The Bok skipper has always said he needs to earn his place in the squad, and although few doubt that he'll in the 31-man group going to the World Cup, he needs to show that he is on track to being up to scratch by the time the team lands in England. 

For Argentina: El Mago is back. Argentina's most famous player, injury-prone playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez will feature in his first Test of the year, starting at fly-half. Hernandez played almost exclusively at centre in 2014, outside Nicolas Sanchez, who has been left at home but is regarded as Argentina's long-term fly-half preference. Sanchez was poor against Australia though and coach Daniel Hourcade will look to Hernandez to bring greater direction and accuracy from the ten jersey this week.  

Head-to-head: Rookie Springbok tighthead prop Vincent Koch will make his first Test start against one of the best looseheads in the business, Marcos Ayerza. Koch had a brilliant Super Rugby season but two brief stints off the bench for South Africa have not seen him face a true evaluation at this level. 59-cap veteran Ayerza is the man to provide that examination. Koch is carrying a rib cartilage injury picked up against the All Blacks and if he struggles, the hosts will have to call on Marcel van der Merwe, their fourth-choice tighthead – not what you want against one of the best scrummaging units in the world. 

Previous results:
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
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: The Boks have a good record in Durban and will be desperate to make a statement. South Africa by 15 points

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 VIncent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements:16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Matias Diaz, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Amorosino.

Date: Saturday, August 8
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 12:05 ART, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Weather: 24°C, Clear skies, 50% humidity
Referee: Romain Poite
Assistant referees: JP Doyle, Marcus Mitrea
TMO: Ben Skeen

By Ross Hastie