2018 Rugby Championships
Argentina vs South Africa
Saturday 25th August 2018
Date: Saturday, August 25
Venue: Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
Kick-off: 16:10 local, 20:10 BST, 19:10 GMT, 21:10 SA Time
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)
If the Wallabies have a mountain to climb at Eden Park on Saturday, working to change 32 years of losing history at that hallowed stadium, they are not alone in their quest to change history.
Perhaps the Bok mountain is not quite as steep as the one facing the Wallabies, but it is still a very real one. The Springboks have not done terribly well in games away from home for some time, in fact, they have won only three of their last 13 games playing outside South Africa. They have won three, drawn one, and lost nine. This string of away losses is a weight on the collective Springbok shoulders, and it is something they have to fix quickly and permanently.
If the truth be told, the Springboks do not like playing in South America. Their performances in Argentina have been scrappy, loose, sometimes downright poor. They do not like the intimacy of the Estadio Malvinas, they do not like the hostility of the crowd, they do not like the weather, and they seem to be put off by the local version of the vuvuzela.
It is not just South America that has been a problem destination for the Springboks of late. During Allister Coetzee’s reign they did not seem to like visiting anywhere in the world…… They have gained something of a reputation of being a home-ground team.
It is time to fix this perception.
This weekend could be the first step towards ridding themselves of the travelling monkey on their backs.
They face an Argentinean side that is, again, promising revenge for their first round loss a week ago. They are talking about targeting the Springbok scrum and turning the battle for the loose-ball into a dogfight.
Based on last week’s game, both sides had plenty to work on before this second round fixture.
The Springboks will be looking at finding the accuracy and focus that was missing in the opening exchanges of last week’s game. They will have worked on retaining possession, making the correct decisions, and sharpening up on their handling. Critically, they will be looking for the focus and intensity that gives them a good start in a Test, and an edge to take into the middle minutes of the game rather than the come-from-behind effort that has been required, and seen, against England and in last week’s game. They will be looking to play clinical rugby right from the start of the game.
Crucially, they will be looking at taking, and finishing off, scoring opportunities when they present themselves. Last week we saw them fritter away at least five scoring opportunities in the first half of the game. Those inaccuracies and soft moments simply have to be eradicated from their game.
Ring-rust and a team that was playing together for the first time might be offered as an excuse for the early scrappiness of the Bok efforts in Durban. However, they have now had a game together, and they found the accuracy and focus for 35 minutes of sublime rugby last week. This week must show further improvement.
Another important focus will be the protection of the ball on the ground once possession is secured. Last week the Pumas found the base of the Springbok ruck a wonderful and fertile hunting-ground, preying on balls that should have been protected and used by the Springboks themselves. The Pumas scored their second try, and gained the lead, as a direct result of this problem area. The Springboks conceded 4 turnovers when the ball was picked at the back of a ruck by Puma counter-ruckers or when the ball bobbled loose. This is a problem that simply must be fixed.
We can expect some time to have been spent on sorting out the problems that were experienced at the back of the lineouts where three deep throws went astray as Marx and Whiteley could not find each other.
The lineout drives were not as cohesive as the Springboks would have liked, and they will have worked on this phase of play too. The focus will have been on better binding, stronger formations, and lower body positions.
A week ago the Springbok scrum was a solid, stable platform on its own ball and seriously disruptive of the Argentinean scrum on their put in. The Springbok will know that Mario Ledesma will have spent extra time working with his tight five in order to get their technique and timing right. The Springboks will be looking at building on last week’s dominant foundation and taking the scrum up a notch in accuracy and aggression.
A critical focus in the week leading up to this second Test will be the on speeding up the ruck-ball and clearing out the Argentineans, who will certainly and predictably be looking to slow the ball down at every single opportunity.
During last week’s game there were no less than 207 rucks. Argentina had 104, and South Africa had 103. The average time for the ball to emerge from a ruck was somewhere around 4 seconds. That is essentially slow ball, as four seconds is a lot of time for a defensive array to set itself.
Closer analysis of the ruck stats from that game show us that South Africa were very dangerous when the ball was recycled quickly, with an average time of 3,14 seconds for ruck-balls that resulted in the Springboks going forward with the ball. The best running ball emerged from the ruck between 1,2 second and 2,3 seconds after the ruck was formed. When the ball emerged after anything past the 3,5 second mark it was static ball and almost invariably went straight into another ruck or was box-kicked from the base.
The Springboks will be looking to speed up those rucks in an effort to create more continuity and thus more opportunity.
In contrast the Pumas will be trying to slow the ruck ball as much as possible. They know that a slow ball will give them the opportunity to pounce for a turnover at the inevitable next ruck, or to counter-attack off a wayward box-kick. The poaching of balls at the second or third ruck in succession is one of their strengths.
Whilst the Springbok focus will be on accurate and clinical play, the Pumas will be looking for the exact opposite.
They are a team that thrives off scraps. They pounce on wayward passes, loose balls, and interceptions of those error balls. They work at loosening the structure of a game, and slowing it down so that teams start making silly mistakes out of frustration, with desperate passes, silly offloads, and 50/50 chip kicks and grubbers.
The Argentineans will do whatever they can to slow the game down, to force it into a scrappy contest for the ball, a dog-fight of sorts. That is when they are at their very best. That is when they thrive. They play “smash and grab” rugby better than anyone.
The Argentineans will have sent time working out how to fix their scrums, they will have worked at fixing a wonky lineout, and they will have upped the focus on disruptive and destructive game plans.
They can win games that deteriorate into a scrap!
The Springboks will need to counter the disruptive tactics and the focus on slowing the ball by imposing their own will on the game.
They have shown that they can do this very effectively.
Now they need to do it for the whole 80 minutes.
Somewhat surprisingly, coach Mario Ledesma has made just one change to his starting lineup for this Test. He has brought experienced lock Tomas Lavanini into the starting line-up, replacing Matias Alemanno, who has dropped to the bench, in the XV and will partner Guido Petti in the second-row.
Ledesma has otherwise kept faith with the team that went down to the Springboks in Durban.
The only other alterations are among the replacements as Facundo Bosch, Tomas Cubelli and Jeronimo de le Fuente are all included.
Out go Diego Fortuny, Martin Landajo and Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias with Argentina looking for more impact from the substitutes.
Rassie Erasmus has made just one change to his starting line-up for their Test with Argentina in Mendoza on Saturday.
Franco Mostert returns at lock in the run-on side while Pieter-Steph du Tit reverts to the bench as a late game impact player.
Mostert was rested for that victory over in Durban following his heavy workload so far this year.
The rest of the starting XV is unchanged.
There are two more changes amongst the forward replacements. RG Snyman makes a return to the matchday 23 in place of Marvin Orie, who is not touring, while Wilco Louw rotates places with Thomas du Toit.
It was interesting to watch the media frenzy that accompanied last week’s Springbok victory over the Pumas. With a win, rather than a loss, depriving them of the fuel for their usual ranting and raving about the deficiencies of the Springbok squad and their coach, they chose to focus on individuals rather than the team.
Handré Pollard took his fair share of jibes and taunts. His slow start to the game, his early mistakes with inaccurate passing, and his wayward goal kicking contributed to a concerted howl for Elton Jantjies to replace him for this game. Each and every one of those scribes, who have regularly, and sarcastically, written about the Lions’ man and his mental frailties were suddenly calling for his miraculous resurrection and reinstatement in the Bok 10 jersey. His previous indiscretions in the green and gold were instantly forgotten or forgiven, and his frailty in big games ignored as Pollard was lambasted for missing a couple of goal kicks and starting a Test slowly.
In similar fashion there were calls, less vociferous perhaps, but still insistent enough, that changes were needed in the loose-trio. Either Louw or Whiteley had to go. A myriad of replacements were offered up by the knowledgeable pundits.
Fortunately, Rassie Erasmus does not easily listen to the whinging and whining of the media. He resisted making wholesale changes and “experimenting” with the team. He said: “I want to us to build more continuity and those combinations now have another opportunity to play together and gain more experience.”
He also has no illusions about the Argentinean challenge back in their own country. He knows they are going to come at his team hard, with a physically confrontational approach. They will try and disrupt the Springbok cool, they will hit the breakdowns hard, they will attack the Springbok scrum, and they will seek to disrupt the mauls and rucks. They will do whatever they can to disrupt the Boks mentally, while slowing the game down to their pace.
This will be a true test of the Springboks mental fortitude and mettle. If they can absorb the Argentinean challenge and impose their own will on the game, they will have taken yet another step in their development and the rebuilding of the Springbok brand and ethos.
The game represents another important milestone for this young Bok outfit. They simply have to win this game if they want to have any real impact on the 2018 Rugby Championships. A win lays down a marker for both Australia and New Zealand, a loss consigns them to another year as “also-rans” with even more pressure from the local fans and media.
This young Springbok team has a certain air of confidence, a certain quiet unassuming, yet positive way about them. A confidence that was so desperately missing in the previous two years. They do not talk-the-talk anymore. They simply go about their business.
The 2018 Springbok pack is a hugely impressive outfit, with both the starting 8 and their bench replacements being of equal quality. That is this team’s biggest strength. These are the ball providers and the destroyers of opposing packs.
At the back there are signs of an increasingly potent strike force out wide, the back three showing serious intent with the ball in hand.
Handré Pollard is a calm general that manages and guides the whole machine, served with good, “hot” ball by Faf de Klerk.
The midfield is solid.
This team also has the mental fortitude and fibre to suck up pressure and still win games. They have the ability to turn on the class too.
The signs have been there – in June against England, and last week, for 35 minutes, against the Argentine. This is the game where they will likely start pulling all the bits together into a consistently cohesive unit. If they can take all their learnings and put them to work for a longer period than last week’s 35 minutes, they will do some serious damage to the Pumas.
I believe they will.
The Springboks, by at least 17 points.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse