The Rugby Championships.

Round Three

The Final Round of 2019.

The Rugby Championship 2019 has just one match-day remaining, as the truncated competition prepares the four southern-hemisphere heavyweights for their campaigns at the Rugby World Cup later in the year. During the past month much has been written and spoken about experimentation and using the Rugby Championships as a warm-up for the big one, the Rugby World Cup. Some have suggested that the 2019 Rugby Championships has been deflated in value by the experimentation and warm-up status afforded the games. Perhaps this is so, with die consideration that in a normal year the RC would follow on the incoming tour season where northern teams visit the south for the mid-year bunfight. In such “normal” years the southern teams will have done their experimentation and warming up against the visitors from the north and would thus be in form and match-fit by the time the RC rolls around. 

2019 is not a “normal” year, and there are no incoming tours for the southerners to get their international season started. This means that the RC is the de facto warm-up and experimentation laboratory for the World Cup.

Does this devalue the RC?

Perhaps. But only insofar the quality of some of the games that are contested.

In truth, however, the Rugby Championships is still one of the premier trophies in World Rugby, equal in status and importance to the Six Nations, and winning the trophy would be a huge confidence booster for the team that takes the trophy back home in this RWC year.

Perhaps the first round, or even two rounds, of the Rugby Championships saw some experimentation, but this third and final round is more likely to see teams working at finetuning, and fixing what was wrong, and finding out more about their depth than experimenting with new players and combinations. Polishing then, rather than learning?

We will watch these two Tests with considerable interest.

Round Three of the 2019 Rugby Championship, kicks-off at the new Optus Stadium in Perth where the Wallabies host the All Blacks for the first time. French referee Jerome Garces is in the middle as the Wallabies look for victory over the All Blacks in TRC for the first time since 2015. 

The second match of the round takes place at the Stadio Ernesto Martearena in Salta, Argentina, where another French referee Romain Poite will take charge of the Pumas versus Springboks match.

Date: Saturday, August 10

Australia v New Zealand
 

Venue: Optus Stadium, Perth
Date Saturday 10 August
Kick-off 17h45 local; 09h45 GMT; 11h45 SA Time; 21h45 NZ Time.
Referee Jerome Garces (France)
AR1 Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
AR2 Shuhei Kubo (Japan)
TMO Marius Jonker (South Africa)

There has been quite a bit of hot air circulating Down-Under during the last week. 

People and sports personalities have been telling anyone who cares to listen all about the All Blacks and how they are ripe for the plucking. Phil Waugh, he of the beetle-browed, bloodied lip frown and laser-like focus in his playing days, has told the world that he believes that the All Blacks of 2019 are a mere shadow of their former selves, essentially writing the All Blacks off ahead of this week’s first Bledisloe clash, and also for the 2019 Rugby World Cup. He believes the All Blacks are “vulnerable” after their indifferent form which included a draw to South Africa, narrow win over Argentina and losses to South Africa and England in the past year. 

Waugh even questions their status as Number One in the world.

He is not alone in his mutterings.

Dane Haylett-Petty has told how the Wallabies have been aware of the All Blacks “secret” RWC plans for the last two years. 

Sekopu Kepu is warning the All Blacks of their own “secret weapon”  and that Taniela Tupou is the “strongest guy I have seen.” 

The same Kepu told of his excitement at the new-found power of the Aussie scrum after their dominance over the Pumas two weeks ago.

I am not sure that all this talk is not simply a bit of pre-game huff & puff to settle the nerves and slay some dragons?

If this All Black side is “vulnerable” after some “indifferent” results, I would hate to see what they are like when they are on top form. Consider that in the last 14 months, the All Blacks have had 13 wins, 2 losses and a draw. That is not really a reason for anybody to get over-confident at this time.

Then turn to Australia’s results in the same period, and we are not comparing apples with apples, are we? In the same period Australia have won 5 and lost 10.

If we now turn to this weekend’s game and the focus that imperceptibly shifts from the Rugby Championships to the Bledisloe trophy that is also on the line in the next two weeks, we begin to see a reason for the Aussies needing to talk up their chances.

It has been all of 5834 days since a Wallaby had his hands on the Bledisloe Cup.

This weekend will not change that, but they desperately need a win in Perth if they want a chance to finally rip the trophy from the All Black grip next Saturday at Eden Park.

When Jerome Garcias blows his whistle to start Saturday’s Test, it will have been 15 years, 11 months and 25 days since Wallaby captain George Gregan was forced to hand the famous trophy over to Reuben Thorne.

Since that day the two teams have played 44 Tests for the Bledisloe Cup, with the All Blacks winning 35 and Australia winning just 7 times, with two draws in the mix.

If I may put it a little differently: All Black Rieko Ioane was six years old the last time the Wallabies held the trophy.

Can the Wallabies turn this one around?

Team Selections:

Australia:

James O’Connor gets his first start since 2013, he has been included in Michael Cheika’s starting XV at outside centre.

But there is still no sign of David Pocock, despite all the rumours that he will have a run this weekend.

O’Connor’s return is one of four changes to Cheika’s starting line-up for the final-round Rugby Championship clash, which doubles as the opening match in the annual Bledisloe Cup series against New Zealand.

Prop Allan Alaalatoa returns to the Test arena for the first time this year. Alaalatoa is joined in the front row by hooker Tolu Latu with Folau Fainga’a shifting to the reserves, while Nic White partners Christian Lealiifano in the halves.

Australia: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Reece Hodge, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Samu Kerevi, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Folau Fainga’a, 17 James Slipper, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Luke Jones, 21 Will Genia, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Tom Banks.

New Zealand:

New Zealand will continue with their twin playmaker strategy in their build-up to the Rugby World Cup, with Beauden Barrett again in the No.15 jersey and Richie Mo’unga at No.10 for Saturday’s clash with Australia in Perth.

Steve Hansen has made several changes to the side that drew 16-all with the Springboks, including the return of bustling loose forward Ardie Savea, named to start in the six jersey, with Hansen resisting the temptation to move skipper Kieran Read to the side of the scrum. Sam Cane returns as the openside flank.

Other changes see Dane Coles as the starting hooker, while Scott Barrett takes over from the injured Brodie Retallick in the middle row.

In the backs, Aaron Smith will start at scrumhalf. 

Anton Lienert-Brown has the 12 jersey while Sonny Bill Williams remains in New Zealand to work on his match fitness.

New Zealand: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Ardie Savea, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Atu Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Matt Todd, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Ngani Laumape, 23 George Bridge.

Thoughts:

While Australia were celebrating their win over the Pumas two weeks ago I did my usual thing, I sat back and had a good think about their achievement. 

Sure, it was built on a dominant scrum, but then the Argentineans had struggled in the scrums against the All Blacks just a week earlier, and the Jaguare scrum – the foundation of this Puma scrum – was weak all year, so this Wallaby dominance was somewhat predictable. 

But was the Wallaby scrum success a portend of things to come? How was the rest of their game against the Argentineans?

The record will forever show that the Wallabies won 16 – 10. 

However, if we dig just a little deeper, we see a somewhat different story. You see, the Argies dominated in every single aspect of play, except for the scrums and, finally, the scoreboard. The Pumas carried the ball more, and further. They passed the ball more, and made more offloads. They made the same number of linebreaks as did the Wallabies. They won more mauls, they had the better of possession and territory too. They were forced to make fewer tackles than the Wallabies were required to make, and both teams were about equal in the defensive stats.

They scored the same number of tries too.

The Pumas lost the game because they were penalised heavily in the scrums, conceding no less than 5 penalties in that phase of the game, although overall they conceded less penlties in total than did the Wallabies (8 – 6).

Both teams produced some of the most atrocious handing ever seen on the Test match stage, 60 handling errors between them, with the Wallabies guilty of 29, and the Argies 31.

The Wallabies are talking up their scrum, and they had better hope that this is enough, because the Pumas actually dominated them in almost every other aspect of play – certainly in all the attacking elements of the game!

Does this win over the Pumas signal a turnaround in Wallaby fortunes?

I am not so sure.

The Wallabies coughed up 19 turnovers against the Springboks then 24 against the Pumas.

Do that again, and the All Blacks will slaughter you.

They must surely know that the All Blacks have refined their ability to score from turnover ball to a fine art. Ask the Springboks – one error in the first 40 minutes of their Test, and the All Blacks pounced and scored.

While the Wallabies have been loudly and publicly talking up their chances and telling about how they were working on fixing their errors and reducing mistakes, their opponents have been quietly going about their business preparing for Saturday’s Test. One team is shouting to keep the bears away…………….

If Steve Hansen has ever needed a trigger to motivate his All Blacks, Phil Waugh handed it to him when he said that the All Blacks were “vulnerable” – he may just regret that statement.

The All Blacks will know that their first two outings of the 2019 Test season were less than perfect. Those two Tests, against Argentina and then South Africa featured two different All Black line-ups, give or take two or three faces. Both Tests thus featured a host of players who were ring-rusty at best, resulting in mistake-ridden performances. This week we are likely to see a team that is better prepared, more in tune, and more likely to fire on all cylinders.

There is also the small matter of a rather large trophy to retain. There is something on the line in this Test, and the All Blacks like keeping hold of trophies.

I will be looking closely at the scrums. We know that the All Black scrum bullied the Pumas in Argentina, we watched the Springbok bully the Wallaby too, and we know that the Wallabies then bullied the Pumas. But on the day that the Wallaby was bullying the Puma, the Springbok and the All Black matched each other blow for blow.

So, has the Wallaby scrum undergone some miracle transformation, or was it simply that the Pumas remained poor? The common denominator seems to me to be that the Argentinean scrum was poor in both their games.

We shall have to wait and see.

Let’s take a quick look at the two lineups.

Back in 1995 the All Backs unveiled the monstrous power and talent of Jonah Lomu out on their right wing. His unstoppable carrying quickly lead to a new mantra that said “Rugby is a team game, all fourteen make sure you pass the ball to Jonah!”

The Wallabies adopted a modern version of this mantra when they had the formidable attacking talents of Israel Folau available, no matter whether he was on the field of play, be it wing, at outside centre, or running from fullback – the Wallaby backline game plan was to get the ball to Israel and then watch and see what he would do next.

Things have changed in Australia, Folau is no longer part of the Wallaby camp, and their next best tactic has been to bash the ball up through Samu Kerevi and then try and shovel it out to Kurtley Beale as often as possible. This game plan has its merits, but it did somehow ignore the considerable ball carrying ability of Tevita Kuridrani in the outside centre berth, so much so that Kuridrani has been left out of the team for this week’s Test against the All Blacks. He has been replaced by the multi-talented but oft misguided James O’Connor.

This is a somewhat surprising move, at best. 

O’Connor is known to be a fullback or wing, and has been playing his club rugby at inside centre of late. Now we are seeing him sent out to face the All Blacks in the somewhat unfamiliar outside centre berth.

O’Connor has been recalled in what might be a seen as something of a desperate move. His last Wallaby cap was against Argentina in Perth six years ago, and this will his first start in the 13 jersey in his 46th Test.

Either Michael Cheika and his boss, Scott Johnson, have seen something that the rest of us are not party too, or they are taking a huge risk. The outside centre channel is one heavily favoured by the All Black attack, with Jack Goodhue looking to tie up the defence while releasing Beauden Barrett on the run-around, and the fullback or wings inside or outside of him. James O’Connor will have to be right at the top of his game to counter this attacking strategy.

Of course, we may see O’Connor and Kerevi swap roles during the game, playing and exchanging roles inside or outside as the game becomes fluid, perhaps with O’Connor taking the inside spot on defence as he certainly has a better boot than Kerevi.

The Wallaby back three feature the mercurial skills of Kurtley Beale at fullback, probably his best position, but much depends on his mood on the day. On defence, however, he may be the Wallaby weak link. 

On the wings they have the relative carthorse solidity of Reece Hodge and the undoubted scoring ability of Marika Koroibete. Neither are flashy wingers, and have shown a weakness when forced to turn on defence.

The halfback combination of Christian Lealiifano and Nic White have not started together for a long time, but have a history of playing together at the Brumbies in seasons past.

Up front the Wallabies have tinkered with their front row after what was supposed to have been a dominant showing against the Pumas. For some reason Tolu Latu is starting at hooker, and I am unsure whether he is a better scrummager than Folau Fainga’a. Allan Alaalatoa also gets a start, which may well strengthen the scrum somewhat after his good season for the Brumbies.

This may be the critical point in the entire Wallaby game plan. 

If Allan Alaalatoa, Latu, and Scott Sio can stand up to Owen Franks, Dane Coles, and Joe Moody in the scrums the Wallabies may just feel that they have a chance.

The second row of Rory Arnold and Izack Rodda will need to step up to match the warhorse that is Sam Whitelock and the considerable talent of Scott Barrett. They may bother the All Blacks in the lineouts, but so to, the return of Barrett provides for some superior ball carrying ability across the park.

If we look at the Wallaby loose-trio we see a third start for Isi Naisarani, Michael Hooper, and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto. A combination that has not quite gelled yet but has shown signs of being able to play off each other, although Hooper remains a loose cannon who often does his own thing and plays away from the other two. Both Naisarani and Salakaia-Loto are good ball carriers and defenders, but are not ball poachers of the David Pocock variety.

They are facing a new All Black trio consisting of Read, Cane and Ardie Savea. This might be a newish combination starting for New Zealand, but they have played together many times, and the combination of Savea and Cane adds a potentially dynamic and explosive force to their game in the loose. Savea is starting on the blindside, but is versatile enough to start at 8, or on the open side too. The two flankers may well allow Kieran Read to play a bit looser than he did against South Africa, and returning to his favoured wide supporting role. If this is allowed to happen, he will add considerable pressure on the Wallaby defence in the wider channels.

So far, we have discussed the Wallaby backline, but not that of the All Blacks. I have left this chore until the last.

The All Blacks are persisting with their new “dual-playmaker” strategy with Richie Mo’unga running the game off the set-pieces while Beauden Barrett will come into the second playmaker role in open play. This gives them a potentially explosive attack on either side of the field, especially when the breakdowns occur in the midfield. We are also likely to see a double-pronged approach off the set piece, with Mo’unga looking to take the ball up either by himself or through Anton Lienert-Brown at 12, tying in the Aussie defenders in the 10/12 channel and then releasing quick ball to Barrett as the second playmaker from the ruck ball.

They could also use this strategy as a development of their new strategy of taking the ball deeper into the midfield off the lineouts, before playing it to a pod of forwards.

If it works, it could be a brilliant strategy to unlock the modern rush defence systems by creating a more formal second phase attacking approach. Of course, the Wallabies have been favouring a drift defence in 2019, which may play into the hands of the All Blacks as they could hit the ball up the middle and over the gain line before taking it wider.

The All Black midfield of Lienert-Brown and Goodhue is less well established and may take a bit of time to settle, although they have played together on numerous occasions with the former often coming off the bench. They are backed by the powerful running of Ngani Laumape on the bench.

Ben Smith and Reiko Ioane are known factors out on the wings. Both have pace and skills aplenty, and Smith brings an uncanny ability to chase and catch the kick, as well as a wonderful ability to carry the ball through the first tackle.

Barret at fullback has a slight positional problem, brought on by a lack of communication with his two wings to get the support pendulum working – this was evidenced by the number of occasions he was isolated to the back against the Springboks. Better communication and support from his two wingers should solve this problem.

And then there is Aaron Smith. When he replaced TJ Perenara in the game against South Africa he brought something special onto the field. There was a dynamic speed to the ball and a quickness about his game that has been missing for a while, and his box-kicking was top class. If he is on form, it could be a long afternoon for Nic White.

Overall, as I measure the two teams on paper, I still have some serious doubts about this Wallaby outfit. They are celebrating a win over the Pumas, and talking up their scrum as some new weapon. The fact of the matter is that the Pumas dominated almost every worthwhile statistic, except for the scrums, while the Wallaby scrum was monstered by the Springboks just a week before. 

Bluntly, if the Wallaby was that good against the Puma, why did they not score more tries than their visitors and had to rely on penalties to win the game?

That does not bode well against an All Black outfit that has, by their own lofty standards and by their own frank admission, not yet hit their straps!

Prediction:

The All Blacks will retain the Bledisloe Cup. And it could be a massacre. However, I will suggest that the Aussies will fight hard, but will fade in the last 20, with the All Blacks winning by 12.

Argentina v South Africa

Venue: Estadio Ernesto Martearena, Salta                
Date Saturday 10 August
Kick-off 16h40 local; 19h40 GMT; 21h40 SA time
Referee Romain Poite (France)
AR1 Matthew Carley (England)
AR2 Karl Dickson (England)
TMO Rowan Kitt (England)

The Argentineans have mastered the art of getting under the Springboks’ skins. They seem to know exactly what to do to disrupt the equilibrium of a South African, and they are very likely to be looking to do that again on Saturday. The Springboks face a tough challenge in their away game against Argentina at altitude in Salta.

This Test has a number of challenges for the Springboks. First and foremost, they are one point clear of the All Blacks at the top of the Rugby Championships log, and a win over Argentina would give the Springboks their first silverware in 9 years. Whilst they cannot afford to get ahead of themselves, they will take to the field knowing that a bonus-point win and a trophy would be a massive boost in their collective confidence as they prepare for the Rugby World Cup.

They might not be focussed on winning the RC, but they will be focussed on overcoming a team that has a remarkable ability to upset Springbok game plans and strategies.

You can bet your boots that the Pumas are not going to make it easy for the Springboks.

2019 could have been a very different story for the Argentineans. They blew a golden opportunity to defeat the All Blacks in Round One when the World Champions fielded an “experimental” team with a bunch of their regular starting players held back in new Zealand for an extra week of rest and recuperation.  Last week their hands let them down badly as they allowed the Wallabies a rare win. Both games could have gone the other way! 

These Pumas will be psyched up to get something out of the tournament and to get their World Cup preparations back on track, and they have the confidence of knowing that they can and have beaten the Springboks before. In fact, they beat the ‘Boks in Salta in 2016, so they know that this ground has been good for them too. (The Springboks will not fear Salta, though, they won there in 2014, albeit a close 33-31 result, but then had a 41-23 win in 2017, a Test that was memorable only because the Springboks played in red for some unfathomable reason.)

Overall, the Springboks have played 14 Test matches in Argentina, with 11 wins, two losses and one draw, for a win percentage of 79 percent.

One game stands out as a warning to the Springboks! Last year’s second fixture against the Pumas saw the Springboks humiliated 32 – 19 in Mendoza, just a week after beating the Pumas in South Africa by 34 – 21.

On the one hand we have a Puma outfit that is hurting, after an unlucky start to 2019, boosted by playing at home and with the knowledge that they can and have beaten the Springboks.

On the other hand we have a young Springbok team that is slowly starting to gel into something special. They will be desperate to build on the foundations they have laid in the scant 15 games that Rassie Erasmus has been in charge. They are an improving squad, and they will look to maintain that trend.

This Test will be the true test of the Springboks in the run-up to the 2019 Rugby Championships. 

Against the Wallabies in Johannesburg, they pretty much demonstrated the depth and commitment of the squad. In New Zealand they added to their game by showing a never-say-die attitude, and again showed the superlative defensive commitment that kept the All Blacks at bay.

Now they need to show that weeks of preparation in New Zealand and Argentina has given the team the chance to gel away from home, as a squad, as a family, playing for each other.

If they do this in Argentina against the Pumas, they will show that they will be a force in Japan later this year.

This Test against the Pumas is no walk-in-the-park for the Springboks.

Team Selections:

Argentina:

Mario Ledesma has made some changes to his side for their final match of 2019’s Rugby Championship, after two losses to date.

Agustin Creevy returns at hooker after sitting out last week’s loss to the Wallabies. Julian Montoya drops back to the bench.

In the second row, Matias Alemanno and Marcos Kremer have been promoted ahead of regular locks Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini. Petti will take a spot on the reserves. The final change in the pack sees Javier Ortega Desio take over from Tomas Lezana on the openside flank. Ortega Desio started in the Pumas’ first match of the campaign, against the All Blacks, but was positioned at the back of the scrum for that game.

There’s only one change in the backs, with Emiliano Boffelli returning in the fullback jersey. Joaquin Tuculet, returns to the bench.

Gonzalo Bertranou and Benjamin Urdapilleta will get their first chances of the year off the bench. Castres utility Urdapilleta has been named as cover for both the midfield and flyhalf positions while experienced halfback Bertranou gets the nod ahead of Felipe Ezcurra.

Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Javier Ortega Desio, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marcos Kremer, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertanou, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Joaquin Tuculet.

South Africa:

Rassie Erasmus has demonstrated the Springbok front row depth by rotating his two front rows completely.  Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane will start in the Springbok front row while Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx, and Frans Malherbe will come off the bench.

The reshuffled front row are the only changes to the starting fifteen from the one that held the All Blacks to a thrilling 16-16 draw in Wellington on 27 July. Duane Vermeulen will again lead the Springboks as captain for this decisive clash in the high altitude of Salta.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain),7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Francois Louw, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Frans Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel

Thoughts:

The two weeks off from the game could not have come at a better time for the Pumas. They were starting to show real signs of fatigue towards the end of their Test against the Wallabies as their never-ending season ticked on and on. Having played all of the Super Rugby season as the Jaguares, progressing to the final in Christchurch, and then having to regather themselves to continue their season in a different coloured jersey and call themselves the Pumas, it was inevitable that fatigue would become a factor.

That fatigue was evidenced in a plethora of handling errors and a couple of tactical mistakes as they went down to the Wallabies in a game where they actually dominated all the attacking aspects of the game. Add that to the evidence of a team that just could not find the last gasp that was needed to secure a win over a very rusty and below-strength All Blacks outfit a week before, and then add the wearying travelling of cross the Pacific to Australia, and then back again.

The Pumas needed the two weeks off more than most.

Has two weeks off been sufficient to regenerate and rejuvenate?

They face a Springbok outfit that has probably been the most impressive of the four teams in this year’s Rugby Championship.

An experimental and obviously under-strength team thumped the Wallabies in Johannesburg, and then a probable first choice line-up dominated the All Blacks for the first 40 minutes of their Test, with just one mistake allowing the All Blacks the half-time lead. They then played off the back foot for most of the second half, yet were able to hold the All Blacks at bay throughout, and then finally still had the gumption to produce a moment of never-say-die magic at the death, to grab a well-deserved draw with the All Blacks in Wellington. 

The Springboks will have one concern, though. 

They will be wondering how and why they failed to capitalize on the dominant pressure, possession, and territory they engineered in the first half of that game, and why they only managed to come away with six points.

The Springboks will surely have been working on converting possession and dominance into points. They will also know that this Pumas side ran the All Blacks close and were not wholly dominated by the Wallabies. They will know they face a desperate side, and they will remember their humiliation of a year ago.

If the Springboks have learned from last year, and learned from their first two outings of 2019, then they may well be on the road to a famous win and a trophy for the display cabinet that has been rather bare since 2010.

While the Springboks will have focussed on their finishing, and probably on tightening up their lineouts, the Pumas will have spent much of the last two weeks working on their scrum.

Just a couple of years ago coach Mario Ledesma was the hooker in a Puma scrum that was the envy of the world. He will have worked very hard to get the current crop of Puma forwards to gel into a similarly powerful unit.

They simply cannot afford to give the Springboks dominance in this phase of play if they want to beat the visitors.  

The Puma backline can be one of the most dangerous around, especially with their heavy artillery midfield and quick wide backs, but they need the stability of front-foot ball from their forwards. 

The Puma loose trio can match anyone in the word, if given the chance, but have often been forced to shore up the tight five when things go pear-shaped. If the tight five can achieve parity in the set-pieces they will allow that loose trio to roam wide and do the kind of damage we have seen them do as Jaguares.

The Puma work-on was their scrum, first and foremost. Perhaps this is why they have chosen to start with an all-new second row of Marcos Kremer, Matias Alemanno, two powerful men who may well provide the engine that stabilises the scrum. Whether improving their scrummaging performance will be at the cost of lineout dominance remains to be seen. Guido Petti and Tomas Lavanini have been a remarkably good lineout combination, both on their own ball and in disrupting opposition ball. Petti will be on the bench, but Lavanini will sit this one out. This may allow the Springboks a measure of dominance in the lineouts.

The Springboks have the luxury of two full international starting front rows at their disposal. Mtawarira, Mbonambi, and Nyakane are as good as any, and they have the world class trio of Kitshoff, Marx and Malherbe waiting to come on later in the game. That is a formidable challenge for any team, and may well test the depth of Puma forwards to the limit.

The Springbok second row of Etzebeth and Mostert, backed by RG Snyman on the bench and supported by Pieter-Steph du Toit in the lineouts is also a world class unit, and will make life difficult for the Pumas at lineout time.

The loose trios present some mouth-watering clashes. Pablo Matera versus Kwagga Smith, two players who enjoy roaming wide and causing problems for the defence, Smith is perhaps better over the ball on the ground, while Matera is better at pouncing on mistakes and counter-attacking. Pieter-Steph du Toit is in a class of his own, and it will take a very special effort by Javier Ortega Desio to tame the Springbok. Ortega Desio has shifted to the blind side for this game, but is more usually a starting No.8.

The return of Facundo Isa is being watched with interest. When he left Super Rugby to go north he had enjoyed a stellar season that earned him my choice as player of the year, but he was not quite as visible in his return to the Argentine jersey. He faces Duane Vermeulen, a known force, who will be bristling just a little after copping some flak in the media for being “invisible” against the All Blacks. Vermeulen looked rusty, and will be wanting to make a statement this week.

At the back the two teams are both fairly settled.

The Springboks will be looking for their back-three unit to start finding each other and playing off each other more than they did against New Zealand. Willie le Roux looked a little rusty against New Zealand, and will be looking to get more involved in creating opportunities around him.

The midfield of De Allende and Am needs to gel too. De Allende has also taken some flak from the keyboard warriors on social media and rugby media comments pages, many bewailing his oft single minded carrying, yet he has done exactly what his coach has asked him to do. He has controlled the 10/12 channel well, and carried the ball up and over the gain line time and again, fitting right into the Springbok game plan of direct non-nonsense rugby. He is doing his job! He and Am now need to start playing off each other, with Am needing to find the right supporting line to take the offload and create havoc with his stepping.

The Springbok defence has been very good, save for a couple of wobbly moments when Makazole Mapimpi has hooked in on the rush and left his wing exposed. This is obviously a Springbok defence tactic, but is not working smoothly as the fullback and far-side wing have not covered across as smoothly as they should. The pendulum needs to be working properly.

It is on the attack that the Springboks will be looking to sharpen up. The need to be far more ruthless and efficient when they get within striking range. Handré Pollard is likely see a lot of quality front-foot ball if his forwards get a grip on the game, so he should be looking to free up space for the rest of the back division.

On the Argentinean side, they have their iconic leader and ball poacher Augustin Creevy back, and he will make a difference, both as leader albeit no longer wearing the captain’s armband, and as a thorough nuisance over the loose ball and in broken play.

They will look to continue their simple style of keeping the ball alive and waiting for the gap to appear, a solid defence, while striking from broken play when the opportunity presents. They have learned from the All Blacks the value of immediate attack off turnover ball.

They play a hustling, disruptive, in-your-face style of rugby designed to mess up the carefully laid plans of everyone they come up against, and they will be looking to do exactly that against the Springboks.

Their back-division game plan is built on retaining possession and letting the ball move between hands until a crack appears in the opposing defence. They like to use the likes of Matias Moroni to force the crack, often relying on an offload or pass to Matera in the support channel to exploit the first bust.

They too have some sparkling runners, the likes of Boffelli, Santiago Cordero, and Ramiro Moyano. They will, however, have to find a way to contain the pace of Mapimpi and the mongrel of Cheslin Kolbe in the wide channels. It could get interesting out wide!

The two teams will play with contrasting styles. The Springboks more focussed on direct carrying and robust contact in the midfield to create chances out wide, playing with quick continuity from the tackle or ruck, while the Argentineans are more likely to be playing an opportunistic game constantly probing for weaknesses or lapses in concentration. The home side may well resort to a kicking game to keep the South Africans running from deep.

The Springboks are playing this Test with one eye of the Rugby World Cup, and one hand on the RC trophy. The Argentineans are playing this Test knowing that another loss would well leave their World Cup preparation will be in ruins. 

Prediction:

On form, it has to be the Springboks, by 15.