It’s the last round of the Rugby Championship, and we preview the final match of the tournament with the Springboks hosting Los Pumas at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The clash will likely be a dead rubber unless the Wallabies stun the All Blacks in the earlier kick-off, but this is still bound to be a mouth-watering encounter.
The last game in South Africa before the Rugby World Cup provides the Springboks with one final chance to put on a show on home soil as the build-up to the tournament heats up.
Argentina arrive in the Republic following a home defeat to the All Blacks before claiming the narrowest of victories over the Wallabies.
Meanwhile, South Africa brushed aside Australia in Round One before falling to a 20-minute All Blacks blitz, losing 35-20.
Where the game will be won
Quite simply, the game will be won at the set-pieces. Argentina have struggled to get any kind of parity in the scrums in either of their two opening fixtures and will need to change that trend if they are to get anything out of the game in Johannesburg.
Michael Chieka’s charges have the lowest gain line success in the tournament, but with abrasive talents in their squad, they can certainly improve on their 47 per cent success rate.
However, their 84.6 per cent success rate at scrum time is where the genuine concern is. The Springboks will happily pack down for scrum after scrum, mainly if it is producing penalties, and with six Rugby World Cup winners locked and loaded, it could be a very long day at the set-piece for the Pumas.
The Springboks’ rolling maul also looks to be getting back to its best, and while Argentina do have a solid defensive lineout, once that maul is set, it is difficult to stop. So stopping it at the source and putting hookers Malcolm Marx and Bongi Mbonambi under pressure will be vital.
When they last met
What they said
Springboks assistant coach Deon Davids previewed the clash with Los Pumas, saying: “Argentina are a team that plays with a lot of pride, and they don’t go away. They fought until the end against Australia and earned the win, and against New Zealand, they started slowly but went on to win the second half. So, it’s going to be a grind from the start, but we have to be accurate and play in the right areas of the field.”
He added: “They have a massive set piece, and they have extreme speedsters in the backline, so if you concede possession against them, it could count against you.”
Experienced Los Pumas winger Juan Imhoff spoke about the threat South Africa pose but said that Argentina would focus on getting their tactics right.
“We are going to have to put a lot of emphasis on ourselves,” the Racing 92 star said.
“South Africa are clear about the type of game that they want to play and are very clear on that. We said that we are going to do the same on our side and focus on our game and on what benefits us. For example, what we did against Australia and what we have been working on for over a year.”
He added: “It is clear that their strategy with the game with their kicking is not to expose themselves, and it is clear how they do it. Also, the kicking game will be key with the back three they have named.
“But that is just one part of their game, and while it is important, we are going to have to respond in all aspects, not only in that one.”
Players to watch
It’s hard not to talk about the pocket rocket Kurt-Lee Arendse, who continues to score Test tries for fun. He has scored 10 in eight matches for the Springboks, dotting down in his last seven successive appearances, including a hat-trick against the Wallabies in Round One. With the mercurial Willie le Roux and the outrageous Cheslin Kolbe also in the back three, Argentina need to keep their wits about them and can’t afford to kick aimlessly to the South Africans.
🤤 What a try!
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) July 8, 2023
Staying with the speedsters and the rapid Grant Williams earns his first start in green and gold on Saturday as he looks to further his bid for a place in Jacques Nienaber’s Rugby World Cup squad. Nienaber said that the scrum-half deserves this opportunity, and he is right; he has been phenomenal this season and excellent off the bench in his last two cameos.
There are several players in the Bok pack to watch, including the excellent Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is trending towards his 2019 form, while Marx returns to the starting XV and Marco van Staden is backed to fill Siya Kolisi’s role again. However, Bok skipper Duane Vermeulen is potentially playing his final home game for his country. Vermeulen tends to rise to the big occasions, and this is undoubtedly one of them; one more big performance is expected in the cathedral of Springbok rugby.
The star that is Juan Martin Gonzalez continues to shine brighter and brighter with every Test match that passes. The Saracens-bound back-rower scored the match-winner against the Wallabies last week and left the Springboks scrambling last year with his dazzling footwork. The 22-year-old is brilliant in all facets of the game and will look to show that again against the Springboks.
Juan Martín González scoring tries in wins over 🦘 and 🥝. #RugbyChampionship
— Jared Wright (@jaredwright17) July 23, 2023
A player Wallabies coach Cheika ranks among the top three players he has ever coached in terms of dedication, Julian Montoya‘s class is undeniable, and that will be on show again at Ellis Park. Like his opposing captain, the hooker is another who raises his game for the big games and fronting up to the imposing Springboks pack makes that an important fixture and one he will relish.
Returning for his first appearance in this Rugby Championship, Santiago Chocobares will look to make his mark in the starting line-up after some strong outings from Jeronimo de la Fuente and Lucio Cinti in the role. The Argentine had a stellar season with Toulouse, earning a contract extension, and with the competition for places in Argentina’s midfield heating up, Chocobares needs a big performance.
With the scrum being pivotal to deciding the match’s outcome, the head-to-head between Frans Malherbe and Thomas Gallo will take centre stage.
The two front-rows are in two completely different stages of their careers, with veteran tighthead Malherbe well and truly in his prime as he aims to claim another World Cup title. Meanwhile, the lively loosehead Gallo is gaining experience and continues to master the dark arts of scrummaging.
Malherbe is a traditional tighthead of old, with his selection baring mostly on his scrummaging ability, and defensive smarts, while Gallo is more in the mould of the modern day prop who is busy around the park.
A real clash of styles, and if the Pumas are to get the upper hand in the fixture, Gallo will need to get some parity with Malherbe – a task many a world-class loosehead have failed to achieve.
Unfortunately for Cheika’s charges, we can only see this going one way, with the Springboks fielding a strong team in their final home game before the Rugby World Cup. An emotionally charged Springbok side is difficult to stop and, after the defeat last time out, they will be determined to get back on track. Springboks to win by 15 points.
2022: South Africa won 38-21 in Durban
2022: South Africa won 20-36 in Buenos Aires
2021: South Africa won 29-10 in Gqeberha
2021: South Africa won 32-12 in Gqeberha
2019: South Africa won 24-18 in Pretoria
2019: South Africa won 46-13 in Salta
2018: Argentina won 32-19 in Mendoza
2018: South Africa won 34-21 in Durban
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Grant Williams, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth (c), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Kwagga Smith, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Lukhanyo Am, 23 Damian Willemse
Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia 14 Mateo Carreras, 13 Lucio Cinti, 12 Santiago Chocobares, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 8 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 7 Santiago Grondona, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Lucas Paulos, 3 Francisco Gomez-Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (c), 1 Thomas Gallo
Replacements: 16 Ignacio Ruiz, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Pedro Rubiolo, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni
Date: Saturday, July 29
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (16:05 BST, 15:05 GMT)
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)