Posts Tagged ‘Pumas’

After Round 1 we still hold that this is going to be one of the most open Rugby Championships in years – between three teams that is! New Zealand may trip at the odd hurdle, and the possibility of one upset in Pretoria at the end of the tournament is not beyond the realm of possibility. However, seeing any team other than the All Blacks lifting the trophy on October 6th is hard to imagine. What we do expect to see though is an exceptionally feisty competition amongst the other three competitors, and in the process a much closer race than we are used to seeing in recent times.

It was a fascinating opening weekend. The All Blacks once more showed some vulnerabilities that could have been exploited by Australia had they not decided to implode at the 35th minute. Australia looked weaker in many ways than they did in their initial first half blowout last year to the All Blacks in Bledisloe 1. New Zealand looked shaky at the beginning with a plethora of uncharacteristic errors, but once they clicked into gear we got a frightening foretaste of what the rest of the world is likely to be up against leading up to Japan. Unlike last year, Australia simply got worse as the match wore on. There were concerns again about New Zealand’s goal kicking when left to Beauden Barrett, and had he had his kicking boots on the score would have been much more humiliating for the Wallabies. However, his control of the game and brilliance in open play more than made up for any inaccuracies from the kicking tee.

Meanwhile in Durban, the Springboks got the job done, and they clearly improved as the match wore on while the Pumas started to fade. Nevertheless, there was no question that despite some problems Argentina, under new Coach Mario Ledesma, mean business. As their first outing under new management, we felt it wasn’t all that bad and there was enough evidence out on the pitch that this side should only get better. The Pumas biggest challenge will be to build the momentum to the point that, come their final two home games, they can provide a serious challenge to New Zealand and Australia and not fade away as they have done in the past for these two fixtures. South Africa struggled in the first half, but improved dramatically as the match wore on and players settled into their roles. There are defensive liabilities in the backs, despite the brilliance in attack by players such as Lukhanyo Am, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Makazole Mapimpi and the Springbok back row were working overtime on occasion against their Pumas opposite numbers. On the flip side South Africa really seemed to be building on the momentum they gained during their Series win against England. Add further finesse to an already impressive looking forward contingent and a Flash Gordon back line, and it is South Africa who are already looking like the side most likely to challenge New Zealand’s supremacy.  However, there is the small matter of a follow-up date this weekend on Argentinian soil with a Pumas outfit who should be slightly more clinical than they were last weekend.

On that note here are our five talking points for each match.

New Zealand vs Australia
Saturday, August 25th
Auckland

Whichever way you cut it, that was a poor Australian performance last weekend. While it may not have mirrored the first half blowout they experienced last year in the opener against the All Blacks, they struggled to impose any kind of authority after the 35th minute, and their set piece play in particular fell apart. The scrums looked a mess, the lineouts were a bad joke and even Pocock and Hooper were struggling to throw the All Black back row off-balance, despite some brilliant individual efforts. Meanwhile the half backs and back line had a rather quiet night. The Wallabies once more seemed to be struggling with the definition of defence and at times looked a little short in the fitness department.

There is no denying that New Zealand struggled to fire in the first 30 minutes, and some of us actually were starting to think rumors that the mighty black juggernaut was missing some gears might actually be true. They simply looked a long way off their customary polish, and were committing a multitude of uncharacteristic handling errors. It didn’t stay that way for long though and apart from Beauden Barrett’s goalkicking, once the team fired they just looked unstoppable as they proceeded to score tries at will. The ball handling skills on display in the opening try by Aaron Smith were a case in point.

Australia’s scrum goes back to the bad old days of 2016

By the end of last season we really felt that Australia’s scrum had finally sorted itself out, barring the odd hiccough and was well on the way to recovery. What we saw last Saturday completely shattered this belief in a new dawn for Wallaby scrummaging prowess. There is no question that they were at a disadvantage against such an accomplished unit as the one New Zealand brought to the table. However, they just looked lifeless and rudderless. Given the fact that South Africa’s scrum is back to its best and Argentina are looking ominous here once more, this is something Australia is clearly running out of time to fix. We just don’t see much salvation for them this weekend in Auckland.

Are Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick the most terrifying Second Row partnership in Test Rugby?

Yes – enough said! Is there anyone who can really go head to head with these two for eighty minutes – we very much doubt it. Retallick in particular was at his barnstorming best last weekend. If you don’t believe us have a look at this performance by the man who reminds us of Jaws in James Bond! They own the lineout and while Australia’s Adam Coleman will definitely have a crack this weekend, he and his partner Izack Rodda were so far off the mark last Saturday, it’s hard to see anything other than continued all out dominance by the two Kiwi giants.

David Pocock alone cannot rescue Australia

The great man once again showed off his remarkable abilities last Saturday, in one of the few glimpses of genuine Wallaby prowess. While his back row partner Michael Hooper spent far too much time trying to develop a post playing career in refereeing, Pocock was immense for the Wallabies. Furthermore, his genuine concern for All Black centre Ryan Crotty during a nasty head knock, even though Pocock was not involved in the actual passage of play, highlighted the amazing camaraderie and sportsmanship which is still such a huge part of our beloved game. Pocock is without doubt one of Test Rugby’s greats, but despite his remarkable talents Australia are clearly too reliant on him to perform miracles.

Beauden Barrett is not the world’s best goal kicker – but does it really matter?

Sure if he’d brought his radar boots last Saturday, then the score would have been more humiliating for the Wallabies, but when you have the kind of footballing skills that he used to score his own try then we’d argue the goalkicking is simply icing on the cake. Also let’s be honest – he still has a goalkicking success rate of well over 70%. Add that to his mastery of game management and perhaps the only gentleman who can hold a candle to him right now is Ireland’s Johnny Sexton. We simply don’t see the same calibre in any of the other Rugby Championship squads’ offerings.

Can Australia really compete in the backs without Israel Folau?

The loss of Folau for such a crucial match is a clear body blow to Australia. Although Dane Haylett-Petty may be good under the high ball, we thought it would have been wiser to have Reece Hodge and his mighty boot shoring up the last line of defence. Australia’s backs just didn’t fire last weekend, and we have a hunch that they are just as likely to be out of sync this Saturday without Folau. Jack Maddocks scored a fine try on debut, and Australia need much more from Kurtley Beale than his one-off contribution to that effort. Now that we all know who New Zealand’s Jack Goodhue is in no uncertain terms, along with Ngani Laumape and the other All Black suspects it is likely to be a long and painful evening for the Wallabies at Eden Park on Saturday.

Verdict

This time last year many were writing off the Wallabies’ chances in Dunedin after a shambolic performance in the opening round of the Championship. They then proceeded to come within a hair’s breadth of the upset of the tournament by almost beating New Zealand in the second round. The transformation of the Wallabies was quite remarkable, so you may wonder why we don’t think the same is possible this time around. The Wallabies in the second half of Bledisloe 1 last year, despite the horrors of the first, showed some real promise and a sense that they had the belief and skill set to turn things around. We just didn’t see any of those kinds of qualities last Saturday. To dredge them out of nothing and on the road to boot, in one of the most inhospitable places on earth for visiting teams, is just too much to ask. Consequently, at home and on the hallowed and seemingly invincible turf of Eden Park, New Zealand to run away with this one by twenty-five points!

Argentina vs South Africa
Saturday, August 25th
Mendoza

We have to admit to being slightly surprised at the negativity surrounding Argentina’s performance last Saturday. Agreed they lost, and were ultimately comprehensively beaten by a better Springbok side. However, they were leading by 14-10 at half time, and much of what they did put on display in that first forty minutes caught our attention. There was a drive and committment in the squad that we simply didn’t see in June. The players are clearly responding to new Coach Mario Ledesma and feeding off the energy he brought to turning around the Jaguares’ fortunes in the recently concluded Super Rugby tournament.

South Africa got their campaign off to a successful start but were less than happy with many aspects of their game and know they will need to be much more clinical in a tough away fixture against a Pumas side likely to have improved. Fly half Handre Pollard missed far too many kicks which kept Argentina in touch with the scoreline for much of the match. The Springbok backs while being lethal in attack, still looked slightly out of sorts defensively once Argentina managed to build up any kind of flowing attack of their own. Just as he did against England in June, scrum half Faf de Klerk really made the difference in turning what could have been an ordinary Springbok performance into something memorable. We’re a huge fan of the Jack Russell number nine who also seems to be able to tackle way above his pint-sized frame. An absolute nightmare for opposition defences, he will be key to South Africa’s build up to Japan next year. Throw in Hooker extraordinaire Malcolm Marx and South Africa look problematic whichever way you cut it. Enforcer Eben Etzebeth seemed to suffer no side effects from his long layover due to injury and was back to his uncompromising physical best. In short, as the Championship wears on, expect this squad to look more and more like the finished product.

Even if Argentina are able to maintain some kind of scrum parity they won’t be able to contain Malcolm Marx.

With Marx being able to play any part of the park and shore up any shortcomings in the scrum, it will be hard for Argentina to get any sort of upper hand here. With the “Beast” backing him up and Frans Malherbe having a respectable outing last Saturday for South Africa, Argentina are still likely to be at a distinct disadvantage in the set pieces. Despite Marx struggling to find his targets in the opening stages of the match when it came to lineout time, he still managed to recover the ball for South Africa on numerous occasions. Essentially whatever problems South Africa may have in set pieces they can rely on Marx as the “fixer”, something Argentina simply don’t have up front, despite the inspirational form and ability of Agustin Creevy.

One of the best second row battles of the tournament

Grab a ring side seat for this one. On the Pumas side you have the passion and power of Tomas Lavanini up against the equally ferocious and physical Eben Etzebeth for South Africa. Meanwhile the X-factor champion of the second row, Argentina’s Guido Petti meets the work rate and sheer all round ability of South Africa’s Franco Mostert. Four very contrasting players all of whom are ferocious competitors. Many of Saturday’s battles will be won and lost here for both sides. We are delighted to see RG Snyman get some more Test experience for South Africa, albeit from the bench, as he was one of the standout performers in the Springboks demolition of England in June.

Expect the Pumas back row to really click this weekend

We thought this was one of the strongest aspects of Argentina’s performance last Saturday, and an area where we felt the South Americans looked more cohesive and dangerous than the Springboks.  Marcos Kremer and Pablo Matera clearly made life difficult for South Africa, and on home soil we expect them to be even more problematic. Tomas Lezana was equally impressive off the bench and expect more of the same from him this Saturday. In short, if this unit develops the finesse it needs it will be a key platform for the Pumas as the Championship progresses, particularly against Australia – a side Coach Ledesma knows only too well.

Handre Pollard needs to find his accuracy as the fly half dilemma is still a concern in South Africa

In controlling the game and being a fly half willing to throw himself into the fray, Pollard did not disappoint last Saturday, however missing five out of seven kicks at goal is simply not something the Springboks can afford. The fly half question continues to dog South Africa and although we think that Pollard offers what South Africa needs in terms of game management his accuracy needs to improve. However, with Elton Jantjies not being the answer South Africa is looking for, we didn’t see much from Damian Willemse that gave us much confidence that the Springboks really have any depth here for the World Cup. We hope this weekend will provide some markers.

The Bautista Delguy breakout

We’re going to see it sooner or later in this tournament, and our bet is in one of the Pumas three home games. While South Africa’s backs stole all the headlines last weekend, the world will need to keep this young man on their radar. Despite the loss last Saturday, the winger was often in the thick of the action and always a threat. An exciting player who reminds us of another promising Puma winger who caught the eye a few years ago, Santiago Cordero, but with twice the physicality. Expect him to be snapped up by a French club before year-end, but with the relaxation of the overseas based player rules for the Pumas in time for the World Cup, he’ll be back and the rest of the rugby world has been warned.

Verdict

We are going to gamble here and despite the evidence that says we are probably barking up the wrong tree, we are throwing caution to the wind and giving a nod to the Pumas, albeit by slimmest of margins. It will be a tight, physical and highly emotional match but we just feel that the Pumas are going to kick back into life any day now, and this could be the spark that sets it all in motion. We have a sneaking suspicion that the Pumas could just start peaking for the global showdown in Japan at exactly the right time, just as they did a year before the last World Cup. Agreed it’s a bit of a long shot, but we think it’s worth a roll of the dice. Therefore, Argentina to surprise us all, but probably not themselves and take an edgy encounter by two points!

Endnote

As we mentioned in our plug for them on our TV/Internet Listings page, our favorite source of rugby analysis the 1014 and Steve and Gareth are back on YouTube. Their breakdowns and fascinating analysis and in-depth (but never dry) use of statistics provides the best insight into International Rugby currently out there. We’ll be ending all our previews with a link to their YouTube content, so get over there and make sure you give them a big thumbs up so we can continue enjoying their remarkable content.

Yes it’s back, and we are genuinely excited about the 2018 edition of the annual dust up between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa that will keep us glued to our TV screens for six Saturdays between now and October.

The action kicks off on Saturday, as tournament favorites New Zealand travel across the Tasman to take on a continuously improving Australian side. Saturday will also see the first round of the famous Bledisloe Cup competition between these two rivals, and to some fans on both sides of the Tasman this is almost of greater importance than the Webb Ellis trophy in Japan next year. New Zealand will still take some beating and the odds of them lifting the silverware yet again in six weeks time appears rather inevitable. However, as we’ve seen since the Lions tour to New Zealand last year, there are some uncharacteristic vulnerabilities in this All Black squad – the armor still seems pretty impenetrable but there are definitely some chinks in it. Australia meanwhile are clearly improving even if consistency is not one of their strong points. The Wallabies seem to have taken a leaf out of France’s book – brilliant one day a disaster the next. It’s hard to reconcile such contrasting performances as their victory over the All Blacks in Bledisloe 3 last year against their subsequent 53-24 blowout against Scotland last November a few weeks later. However, against the second best team in the world at the moment, Ireland, Australia looked exceptionally competitive this June. Media hype and mind games aside, New Zealand given their own wobbles during the past year, are likely to be feeling more than just a little anxious about Saturday’s proceedings in Sydney.

Meanwhile in Durban, a Pumas side under new management in the shape of Coach Mario Ledesma have their first outing against a Springbok side clearly revelling in the change to their own coaching structure which took place in June. South Africa’s new Coach Rassie Erasmus already has a series win against England under his belt, and in an albeit scrappy game managed to run Wales close in his first outing with the team at the beginning of June. Ledesma who was a superb exponent of Pumas rugby when he wore the jersey, brings enormous international experience to the Coaching role. He clearly had a role in taking a struggling Jaguares side in Super Rugby, and transforming them into playoff contenders this season. While the leap from Super Rugby to Test Rugby is a considerable one with no safety nets, the Pumas are unlikely to be as poor as they were in June under outgoing Coach Daniel Hourcade. It was clear that despite the successes under Hourcade during the last World Cup, his time had come and gone with the players and their performance clearly reflected a team just wanting to end one era and start a new one.

In a departure from our usual style in previewing Tests, instead of merely breaking down the individual head to heads, we’re highlighting five key points which we think will decide each match. So let’s get into it.

Australia vs New Zealand
Saturday, August 18th
Sydney

Whichever way you cut it, this should be a cracker. Last year’s edition saw a first half in which the All Blacks utterly eclipsed a seemingly clueless Wallaby side, who were frantically digging out their dictionaries in the dressing room at the break to determine what the word defence meant. The Wallabies still ended up getting thumped, but their comeback in the second half was commendable and gave us a glimmer of what was to follow. In the return fixture in New Zealand the Wallabies were hardly recognisable from the seeming amateurs of the week before and were desperately unlucky to lose. The Wallabies still struggle at times with discipline, but defensively they are vastly improved and finally have a scrum that can mix it with the world’s best. From 9-15 Australia have a set of backs that immediately bring to mind the likes of Campese, Farr-Jones, Larkham and Lynagh among others. While the current Australian crop still have a long way to go before they approach the greatness of the names mentioned above, there are clearly signs that silky, dangerous Australian backs are once more a part of the Wallaby stable.

New Zealand on the other hand have surely learnt many of the lessons they needed this past season and in the process have developed some truly staggering depth across the park. On any given Saturday, All Black Coach Steve Hansen can put out two world-beating match day squads of 23 players. They may have not gelled together as well as he and his coaching team would liked at times this past season, but the next 13 months are surely going to be a process of simply putting the finishing touches on a robust All Black challenge for the World Cup and one which it would be hard to argue against if you were of the betting persuasion.

If Australia can hold parity at scrum time, will they have the edge when the bench comes into play?

We may be wrong but although New Zealand in our opinion have a better starting front three, we have a hunch that Australia may end up giving New Zealand short shrift here in the final quarter. While everyone is talking about All Black replacement loosehead prop Karl Tu’inukuafe, we are really excited to see Australia’s replacement front three of Tolu Latu, Allan Alaalatoa and Taniela Tupou in action. We feel that as a unit they are likely to be that much more cohesive than New Zealand’s replacement trio at a critical juncture in the match, especially if the scores are close.

Will New Zealand shutdown Australia’s Pocock and Hooper at the breakdown?

There is no question that on paper New Zealand’s back row trio should be able to clearly outmuscle Australia, if such contests are kept to close quarters. If however, Hooper is allowed to make himself a nuisance in the loose for the Wallabies and Pocock is back at his poaching best when it comes to one on one turnovers, then New Zealand could struggle in Sydney. The Wallaby duo play such a key role in setting up ball for half backs Genia and Foley, allowing them to unleash a fast and unpredictable set of Australian backs. Despite Pocock and Hooper’s brilliance, the presence and leadership of Kieran Read, and the brute power of Sam Cane and Liam Squire should ensure that the two Wallaby jackals will be kept at bay. In short, plenty of sparks to fly here with Kieran Read only just back from injury making this one of the most fascinating and exciting contests on the park on Saturday.

Beauden Barrett needs a BIG game.

The All Black fly half is still a master at his trade and a supremely gifted player, but there is no denying that he has lacked some of his customary spark and polish at times in the last twelve months. Furthermore, the dips in consistency with his goalkicking have been well documented. To add to the pressure the All Black incumbent is under, a certain Richie Mo’unga is snapping hard at his heels for the New Zealand number 10 shirt. Damian McKenzie on the bench is also a possibility, but we see him as far less of a threat to Barrett than Mo’unga. McKenzie is also equally lethal at fullback and for us, his versatility across the park means that he is less of a threat to Barrett than Mo’unga who is more of a specialist 10. Mo’unga will sit this match out, but is likely to get a starting berth at 10 sooner or later. If Barrett doesn’t deliver on Saturday, expect Mo’unga’s chance to come sooner than many are predicting.

Go wide and go left!

The left wing for both sides should see plenty of action on Saturday. It’s here where there is some exceptional speed and pace from both teams in the shape of Rieko Ioane for the All Blacks and Marika Koroibete for the Wallabies. While we think that Ioane is perhaps the more graceful and fleet of foot of the two, as we saw last year give Koroibete a head of steam and the man is almost impossible to bring down. Furthermore Koroibete has put in some immense try saving tackles and running into him at speed is clearly going to hurt. Ioane on the other hand makes up for lack of bulk with some genuine astuteness in his defensive positioning. Consequently the contrasting styles of these two will be fascinating to watch on Saturday, but if either team goes wide and out to the left then hang on to your seat!

The Beale factor

New Zealand may have a more complete, skilled and ultimately settled team, but there is no denying that there are some remarkable individual talents on this Wallaby team, and perhaps none more so than centre Kurtley Beale. The man is a cheeky magician, plain and simple and his ability to think on his feet is remarkable. Beale’s performances in the last year have for us been the highlight of Australia’s renaissance. He is a consistent game changer who, perhaps epitomizes more than any other Wallaby player, the danger and unpredictability of Australia’s set of backs. Even though he is playing at fullback here instead of centre, this short clip of his remarkable try against Wales last year illustrates the point.

We’re not saying that New Zealand don’t offer comparable quality in their centre offerings on Saturday, especially as we all know what a force Ryan Crotty is. However, it’s the X-factor that Beale brings that makes us think that in front of a raucous Sydney crowd, New Zealand will be working overtime to keep Australia’s mischievous court jester in check.

The verdict

This should be a superb opening to what is likely to be one of the most open Rugby Championships in years. New Zealand are likely to dominate the forward battles, with their half backs ensuring the control and composure needed to get past an adventurous and talented Australian side. We very much doubt we’ll see the first half blowout we saw in this fixture last year, but New Zealand should still ultimately come out on top in a closely fought contest. Either way definitely a game you don’t want to miss. Australia will provide New Zealand with some nasty surprises at times through their backs and the Hooper/Pocock combination, but ultimately New Zealand will still have the overall class and pedigree to get the job done by six points!

South Africa vs Argentina
Saturday, August 18th
Durban

The last time these two sides met in Durban it did not go well for the Springboks by any stretch of the imagination. The Pumas ran rings around them at times, as they set the tone for the type of performances they were set to produce two months later in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. However, much like the Wallabies the Pumas have not been blessed with consistency despite their meteoric rise through the global rankings in the last ten years. To add insult to injury, the last two years have seen an alarming drop in the ability of the Pumas to get results. They may produce a spectacular 50-60 minutes of rugby, but then ultimately fade away. Perhaps more worrying is that they have clearly run out of puff by the time they get to their final two games of the Championship, which are both home fixtures, and as a result tend to exit the competition with a whimper, despite home ground advantage. Consequently, the new dawn that starts with Coach Mario Ledesma this Saturday is being eagerly anticipated by Pumas supporters and neutral fans around the world. When the Pumas play well they are a joy to watch and their passion and skill sets at times are unique. Ally this to a consistently powerful and fast forward presence and they are always a team to be feared.

The Springboks are also starting life anew under Coach Rassie Erasmus after the turbulent reign of Alastair Coetzee since the last World Cup. With a new Coach and a new Captain, Siya Kolisi who is also the first ever black player to hold the responsibility, much is being expected of the Springboks as they look to restore some much-needed pride to a battered jersey. They got off to a great start in June, with a 2-1 Series win over England and in the process highlighted a raft of new and exciting talent along with the resurgence of some valued veterans. In short, South Africa are back and mean business. There are still many questions that remain from the Coetzee era, and Erasmus still has a very long to do list, but there was no doubt that the Springboks on display in June showcased a potentially exciting future that embraced South Africa’s traditional strengths while adapting them to the pace of the modern game.

Malcom Marx – Best Hooker in the World?

In our humble opinion the simple answer to that question is yes. Possessing a phenomenal work rate that provides constant inspiration to his fellow team mates, Marx is far more than just a hooker. Playmaker, poacher, utility back – the list goes on. Feared by many opponents but respected by all – Marx is the complete rugby player. He goes up against a player equal in stature in the shape of Argentine Hooker and Captain Agustin Creevy, but expect to see Marx still going flat-out at the eighty minute mark while Creevy is likely to be on the bench by 60. If Marx gets this team going on Saturday and for the rest of the Championship, then South Africa will be an almost impossible team to beat at home and a serious challenge on the road.

South Africa may dominate the lineouts, but beware the Pumas duo in space!

To be honest we are scratching our heads slightly at the omission of Bulls lock RG Snyman from the Springbok starting lineup for this match. South African supporters will be delighted to see the return of Eben Etzebeth from injury, and along with Pieter-Steph du Toit, the Springboks should dominate the lineouts. However, the Pumas duo of Mattias Alemanno and Guido Petti, in particular, are going to provide the South Africans with plenty of problems in the event of any spilled ball. Petti’s strength and speed were one of the talking points of the Jaguares’ Super Rugby exploits and Alemanno is no slacker either. We thought that in the recent England series with South Africa RG Snyman had the pace and power similar to the likes of Petti, and are thus rather surprised at his omission.

The most evenly matched contest on the park – the Back Row!

The contest between these six gentlemen on Saturday, will be worth the price of admission or your internet/cable subscription alone. For South Africa you have the former Captain Warren Whiteley alongside the new Captain Siya Kolisi, backed up by veteran Francois Louw. While Kolisi may not have had the best season at Super Rugby level, his performance in the June Tests against England was immense and his ability to provide leadership when his team found themselves in a corner was noteworthy. However, for us it’s the Pumas offering backed up by a solid bench that is the more daunting of the two back rows. In Marcos Kremer we think Argentina have one of the most promising newcomers in International Rugby and Pablo Matera and Javier Ortega Desio are both exceptional and proven commodities. It’s South Africa’s bench where we feel they have more to prove in this part of the park than Argentina. Tomas Lezana has been outstanding for Argentina and the Jaguares over the last year, and South Africa’s Marco van Staden will be put to the test on debut in no uncertain terms by this powerhouse Pumas quartet.

The Springbok fly half question

Like most we breathed a sigh of relief to see Handre Pollard’s name on the starting sheet at number 10. Make no mistake we think that his rival Elton Jantjies is a very fine club/province player. However, as evidenced in the recent Super Rugby final and in the final June Test against England – a Test level fly half Jantjies is not. Under pressure he resorts to kicking away perfectly good possession for no visible gain. Furthermore we’ve noticed over the years that in South African rugby when the fly half starts aimlessly kicking away ball then the rest of the team seems to think it’s OK to do so as well. Pollard seems a much more precise player as well as being highly courageous with ball in hand. His composure seems to be much more solid under pressure as well. However, given the fact that he seems the clear and obvious choice, South Africa find themselves with 13 months to go, having little or no depth in such a key position. They’ll be utilising newcomer and Stormers fly half Damian Willemse from the bench, but although the talented youngster is getting a lot of praise, the Stormers rather dismal Super Rugby campaign isn’t exactly imbuing us with a lot of confidence. South Africa need to find answers here and quickly.

South Africa’s defense at the back will be sorely tested

Three names to watch for South Africa – Makazole Mapimpi, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Lukhanyo Am. The two wingers and a centre have ridiculous amounts of speed and ball handling skills, but defensively the jury is still out and this is an area where they will be fully tested on Saturday. For us Pumas winger Bautista Delguy is one of the most dangerous new attacking threats in Test rugby, and was one of the few positive aspects of Argentina’s dismal June series against Wales and Scotland. Hungry and exceptionally fit Delguy will put Dyantyi under all kinds of pressure on Saturday, while Ramiro Moyano will do the same to Mapimpi. Throw into the mix Pumas fullback Emiliano Boffelli who was one of the players of the year in 2017 and the Springboks are going to have to be very sharp at the back in Durban. They can take comfort from the fact that veteran Willie le Roux, who has rediscovered the form that made him such an exceptional player in the past for the Springboks, will be the last line of defence. Le Roux is playing some very smart rugby and got the Springboks out of jail on numerous occasions against England, as well as providing some scintillating counterattacks of his own. While Mapimpi, Dyantyi and Am can score tries at will, it will mean very little if they provide a porous defence in return for their attacking prowess and opportunism.

Verdict

Argentina have the squad and Coach to pull off an upset in Durban, just as they did three years ago almost to the day. However, we think that as new Coach Ledesma’s first outing with Argentina it is unlikely, added to the fact that the Pumas still have to step up massively from the shambolic performances they put in during the Tests against Wales and Scotland in June. They will be exceptionally competitive make no mistake, and an exciting Test match should be in prospect with plenty of physicality and enterprise from both sides. However, it is South Africa coming off the back of a series win against England who are likely to be the more settled and composed side, especially on home soil. Therefore a tight encounter initially but South Africa to pull away by eight points at the final whistle!

Endnote

As we mentioned in our plug for them on our TV/Internet Listings page, our favorite source of rugby analysis the 1014 and Steve and Gareth are back on YouTube. Their breakdowns and fascinating analysis and in-depth (but never dry) use of statistics provides the best insight into International Rugby currently out there. We’ll be ending all our previews with a link to their YouTube content, so get over there and make sure you give them a big thumbs up so we can continue enjoying their remarkable content.