Planet Rugby

Preview: South Africa v Argentina

15th August 2013 11:43

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Into the second year of The Rugby Championship, Argentina are better prepared than ever before ahead of facing the Springboks at Soccer City this weekend.

Case in point; they rested 21 of their leading stars back in June in order to prepare as best they could for a gruelling schedule against the world's top three sides.

This tournament will mark the end of the road for Felipe Contepomi - the illustrious fly-half cherished by fans in Bristol, Leinster and Paris as well as his homeland - who at 35 departs Argentinian rugby leaving it in a far better condition than when he made his debut in 1998.

No longer are the Pumas a group of players bonded together through an aggressive attitude and a scattering of talent. Their side for Saturday is packed full of class; Juan Imhoff, for example, is one of Europe's deadliest finishers.

Santiago Phelan will be aware of the pressure to pick up a first win in the tournament as Argentina's grace period continues to dwindle away, but he has the tools to do so.

The depth in Argentinian rugby has never been better, especially in terms of quality - yet when matched up against a side such as Heyneke Meyer's South Africa, they have a long way to go.

Last year's 16-16 draw against the Springboks in Mendoza was an indication that Argentina would not take as long as Italy have in the Six Nations to become competitive, but under Meyer the Boks are building something promising.

Saturday's squad is not simply a strong XV, but a 23 packed with talent - young and old.

Welcoming back Fourie Du Preez and Gurthrö Steenkamp into the fold adds experience, but the real excitement is around the youth bursting through - Siya Kolisi, Jan Serfontein, JJ Englebrecht and Willie Le Roux.

It still feels early to be expecting too much from Le Roux in Test rugby, but the 23-year-old from Griquas plays with time on his side and appears to know not only how to finish off any chances that come his way, but also create plenty for others.

That new generation will play an important role as elder Springboks begin to head overseas. Morné Steyn and Bryan Habana have both decided to France whilst Francois Louw has signed a new long-term contract with Bath. The policy of South Africa selecting European-based players, however important they are, may not last forever.

The core of a group to take South Africa through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup is growing in the wake of such an enormous loss of Test caps following the last RWC in New Zealand.

Now over a year in under Meyer's watch, South African fans will start to expect more. They should do anyway, because the Springboks have a very realistic chance of winning this year's championship - their first since 2009.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: All eyes will be on Duane Vermeulen, packing down at number eight in the absence of Pierre Spies. The Stormers back-rower missed a large chunk of the Super Rugby season, suffering a knee injury that has kept him off the pitch more or less since May. Coming into a Test environment on the back of very little match practice will be a considerable challenge for Vermeulen, but South Africa cannot do without his influence in the absence of Spies. Moreover, Vermeulen is a brilliantly industrious and powerful player in his own right.

For Argentina: Stepping in to make your international debut to replace the injured, and magnificent, Juan Martin Fernández Lobbe? Good luck. That is the task handed to young Pablo Matera against the Springboks. Having starred for the U20 Pumas in the Junior World Championship last year, Matera has enjoyed a rapid promotion into the senior squad, which underlines both that the Junior system is working and that he is some talent.

Head-to-head: Hard to ignore the two wily old-timers playing in the number 12 jerseys. Jean De Villiers and Felipe Contepomi combine for a total of 168 Test caps between the two of them and both will captain their respective sides on Saturday. De Villiers has always been regarded as one of the game's great runners, with Contepomi more renowned for his distribution and kicking. Both players are integral to their team's success and have earned each other's respect.

Previous results:
2012: Draw 16-16
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: The Springboks' time together during the June International series against Scotland, Italy and Samoa should stand them in better stead given their higher level of match practice, with Argentina coming into this one on the back of two warm-up matches against the Waratahs. Parity upfront is everything and the sense is that Argentina will just fall short. South Africa by 8!

The teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip Van Der Merwe, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Argentina: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Felipe Contepomi (c), 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Matias Diaz, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Juan Figallo.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Julio Farias Cabello, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Fernandez, 23 Horacio Agulla.

Date: Saturday, August 17
Kick-off: 17:00
Venue: Soccer City, Soweto

by Ben Coles
@bencoles_

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