So the Lions Tour is done and dusted, and with it hopefully all the acrimony and off-field antics that detracted from a Series that really failed to deliver until that final third and deciding game. South Africa emerged victorious in their first proper outing since lifting the World Cup almost two years ago. It wasn’t a pretty performance from them at times, but when it mattered most they got the job done, and for most of the Series looked like rather formidable and immovable objects. Riding the momentum of the Lions series, which always seems slightly removed from the day to realities of regular International Test Rugby, the big question is can the Springboks reproduce those successes in regular competition both at home and on the road? They opted to not participate in last year’s tournament which, Lions successes aside, we still feel was a mistake, and it remains to be seen if they are as good as their recent victory over the Lions would make them out to be.
As for Argentina, despite facing exactly the same issues as South Africa last year, they did choose to participate, and surprised the rugby world by claiming an historic first ever victory over the All Blacks in their opening game. The Pumas have not played in Argentina since the last World Cup and have simply gone from one bubble to the next, so life on the road as challenging as it may be, is now the norm for this group of players. Consequently, their cohesion as a unit is rather unique, and will be just one extra level of complexity for South Africa to deal with on Saturday. Squad unity and familiarity for the Pumas is probably the best in the world right now, and adversity is something the South Americans seem exceptionally well equipped to deal with. They bring a fearsome side to Port Elizabeth on Saturday, and the Springboks will be in for a serious challenge that could well make the Lions tour seem almost tame by comparison. Argentine Coach Mario Ledesma has assembled a match day 23 that can absorb as much punishment as the Boks can dish out but also return it in equal measure, as well as run the ball from all over the park.
In short, we can’t wait for this one as business returns to normal for two quality sides. So here’s what got us thinking about tomorrow’s dustup between two big and bruising outfits.
Probably not the two most popular tourists in South Africa right now
If the social media antics of the recent Lions Tour to South Africa weren’t enough, then there is the potential hangover of some rather inappropriate comments made on social media by former Pumas Captain Pablo Matera and second rower Guido Petti about their hosts when they visited South Africa as teenagers. Matera has had to bear the full responsibility of his comments, having been stripped of the Captaincy and undergoing some personal training to ensure that his behavior reflects the values of the modern game and upholds respect for your opponents regardless of origin or race. He has shown genuine remorse for his actions, and it would appear that Petti has also made amends for the consequences of being a brash, irresponsible and insensitive youth. Nevertheless, it will add an extra edge to the match with both players needing to be emotionally mature both on and off the pitch.
Putting their teenage indiscretions aside, Argentina can’t do without the pair as they are arguably two of the most potent weapons in a formidable Pumas forward pack. They’ll need Petti’s poaching skills in the lineout and turn of speed in the loose, whilst Matera’s one man wrecking ball skills and abilities in securing turnover ball and getting his colleagues on the front foot proved absolutely devastating in that first Test against New Zealand last year. Their opposite numbers in green, Lood de Jager and Kwagga Smith will need to be at their very best to keep the Pumas pair in check.
Not a contest for the faint hearted!
Bred in top secret labs deep in the Andes and a remote corner of the highveld, well not really but you can be excused for thinking so, Argentina’s Marcos Kremer and South Africa’s Eben Etzebeth are the epitome of the kind of massive and bruising physicality that these two sides can bring to Test Rugby. Kremer has the added advantage that he is equally comfortable in the back row. These are very, very tough men and the contest between the two of them in the second row should be of epic proportions. Both seem unbreakable, but you have to wonder if facing the Lions in back to back Tests over the last three weeks could be a bridge too far for Etzebeth compared to the break Kremer has had since facing Wales. It’s a matchup of epic proportions and we can’t wait to see how it plays out and who comes out of it the best.
Noticeable last year – but likely to be spectacular this year
South Africa have chosen to stick with Jasper Wiese at number eight, after the Springbok rookie acquitted himself relatively well in the final two Tests of the Lions tour, despite a worrying penalty count in the third Test. In many ways Bruni was the new boy with everything to prove for the Pumas last year, but he has settled very well into the Pumas setup since then. He is a force to be reckoned with and made life miserable for the All Blacks in their first encounter last year and was sorely missed for the second. Massively physical but with some excellent ball handling skills to go with it, Bruni will give Wiese a real baptism of fire in only his third Test as he goes up against the rapidly improving Argentinian. Bruni was very noticeable last year, but we have a hunch that he could well end up making the Rugby Championship Team of the Tournament, once proceedings draw to a close on October 2nd. His star is set to rise so watch this space!
A battle of contrasting styles but only one pedigree
It really pains us to say this, as we don’t for a second doubt Elton Jantjies’ playing abilities in Super Rugby but at Test level sadly it seems he just cannot make the transition. We would have thought that at this stage the verdict on Jantjies as a Test 10 is well and truly established, and it is time to give some younger candidates an opportunity leading up to the World Cup. Clearly not in the eyes of Springbok management however, as the 31 year old finds himself once more being given a starting berth. Admittedly it would appear that South Africa feel their options are limited, especially with regular starter Handre Pollard being given a much needed rest after his Lions efforts. Nevertheless isn’t it time to see if Sharks fly half Curwin Bosch can break the similar curse affecting him of not being able to replicate Super Rugby success in the Test arena? In short, we remain to be convinced but once again sincerely hope that Jantjies can prove us wrong.
As for Argentina, there is no such conundrum. In Nicolas Sanchez, they have a World Class Test level 10 and have done for quite some time now. He was instrumental in engineering the Pumas shock win over New Zealand last year, and is more than a match for Jantjies. It’s a bit like having a top of the range BMW on the field up against a top of the range Toyota. Both are quality products but one just does so much more and is loaded with options. In short, we fully expect to see Sanchez dictate proceedings on Saturday and give Argentina a much needed advantage in terms of game management.
Hopefully we will be seeing plenty of this young man in the next two months
Fair enough, South Africa won the Lions series, but we can’t help feeling that they could have won it so much more spectacularly if this young man had been involved in any of the Three Tests. As it was he only got to star in the one off Test against Georgia. We can’t help feeling that South Africa missed a golden opportunity of blooding the youngster against the Lions, but so be it. On Saturday, he is up against Argentina’s Bautista Delguy who is one of the Pumas own wonder weapons out wide and now has the track record to back it up. Consequently, as a test of Fassi’s defensive skills, South African Coach Jacques Nienaber couldn’t ask for better. If Fassi gets a passing grade defensively and provides the kind of electrifying attacking prowess which highlights his already massive skillset, the rather tedious and pointless allegations that South Africa plays boring rugby will be exposed as the fallacies they are. Either way a bit like Etzebeth vs Kremer the contest between Fassi and Delguy will be one of the most fascinating and potentially exciting of the afternoon!
This is a Test we are really looking forward to, especially now the Lions circus is behind us and all the off field silliness and acrimony that went with it. It’s time for the Springboks to resume normal service and as a start to that they couldn’t ask for a better initial Test. However, we will stick our necks out here. This is a Pumas squad that probably knows each other and how to work together better than any other team on the planet right now, courtesy of having to jump from one COVID bubble to another around the globe in the last year. Therefore they have the potential to give the Springboks a lot more to think about than they had perhaps initially bargained on. We will probably be made to eat our words, but we think that the momentum of the Springboks Lions victory will count for very little in this match and if anything could actually work against them, as some tired bodies find this too much of an ask both physically and mentally with such a short turnaround. This Pumas team can match and return any blows the Springboks can dish out physically and on attack they can be truly lethal, especially if Sanchez is conducting the orchestra with his customary flair.
So let the rugby do the talking and here’s hoping for a contest that will cap off what should be a stellar weekend of Rugby Championship action!