Preview: South Africa v Argentina

16th Aug 2014, 13:49

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Face off: Habana and Ayerza

Face off: Habana and Ayerza

Saturday's second match kicking off the 2014 Rugby Championship takes place in Pretoria as South Africa host Argentina on Saturday.


Saturday's second match kicking off the 2014 Rugby Championship takes place in Pretoria as South Africa host Argentina.

Rightly or wrongly, the majority of attention ahead of Saturday seems to be on what happens in Sydney between the Wallabies and All Blacks.

That's arguably because we expect more of a contest. Rewind to this time last year and South Africa put over 70 points on Argentina in a victory best described as merciless - the biggest ever in Rugby Championship/Tri-Nations history.

Expecting that to happen again would be foolish, surely, but the sense watching Argentina is that they have regressed.

Moving on from the Santiago Phelan era has not been an easy process, with Daniel Hourcade, well liked after his work with Argentina's junior sides, stepping in at the last moment before 2013's November Tests.

Argentina as a result looked and felt disjointed, short of collective inspiration and lacking enough major game breakers to clinch tight matches. Not an encouraging mix of ingredients to carry into a tournament against the world's top three sides.

That might be slightly harsh when you consider some of the individual talents in their locker. Marcelo Bosch was outstanding last year, as was Pablo Matera. Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, no longer the captain, is world class.

But do Argentina truly have the key personnel to match New Zealand, Australia and South Africa? The answer for now is no. What will be interesting however is to see the results of Hourcade's extended time with the squad following their training camp in Florida.

Number eight Benjamín Macome's absence is a great shame after his performances in June, while Juan Imhoff, despite blowing hot and cold, is an excellent finisher. In general that has been an Argentinian problem; the potential to threaten without delivering.

Creativity therefore is key, particularly with Felipe Contepomi no longer around to inspire as he did so often.

Their one area of continued excellence has always been in the tight five, but that bears a significantly different look in 2014 to the unit that hounded New Zealand and Australia.

Juan Figallo's injury nightmare means there is no inclusion for the Saracens prop, handing the inexperienced Ramiro Herrera his first start against one of the SANZAR trio. Tomás Lavanini is in the same boat, the 21-year-old holding great promise.

Promise and potential only go so far however against the Springboks, who boast 620 Test caps. Holding an unbeaten 17-game record over Argentina also helps win the mental battle.

Complacency though is always an issue, because had it not been for two late penalties from Morné Steyn in Mendoza last year then Argentina would have secured a famous win to go with their 16-16 draw with the Springboks from 2012.

Now over two years on from Heyneke Meyer's first match in charge against England, his talented side feels settled. The dross produced by the domestic sides doesn't translate to the Boks, with Meyer getting the most out of his physical specimens upfront but wary enough to know that power alone doesn't guarantee success.

South Africa's back-three of Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks and Willie le Roux can match any other side in the world for pace and finishing, but the inevitable focus for this clash will be on 13 and 10.

Damian de Allende improved hugely for the Stormers throughout Super Rugby this year and at the age of 22 partners his provincial team-mate Jean de Villiers, whose return as captain is timely. De Allende will bring an athletic presence to the outside channel, a powerful weapon designed to get them over the advantage line.

Perhaps more interesting is the call to give Handré Pollard another run at fly-half ahead of Steyn. The South African U20 skipper has enjoyed a fast-tracked graduation into the big time and looked good against a weary Scotland outfit. This though is a different test.

The likes of De Allende, Pollard and second-row Lood de Jager are fortunate to be surrounded by so many experienced players and combinations.

While the Boks have already had four matches together this year, Argentina are more of less turning out for the first time given that only three of their XV started in their last game against Scotland.

That's a major disadvantage, one that makes it very difficult to predict even a losing bonus point for Hourcade's men in the South African capital.

Ones to Watch

For South Africa: Against a competitive back-row unit, the Springboks need their breakdown specialist to rise to the fore. Stand up Bath flanker Francois Louw, whose excellence is almost underrated in the world game. So adept on his feet, Louw will get help from the rest of his pack, especially Bismarck du Plessis, but is the main man to limit Argentina's possession and help get the Boks attacking on turnover ball with their exciting backline.

For Argentina: Over the last few years it's felt like El Mago has run out of magic. Having hit such great heights earlier in his career, especially at the 2007 Rugby World Cup, we expect more from Juan Martín Hernández. He hasn't influenced a Test in years. He hasn't looked anywhere near his best for too long. The game's top players deliver consistently, something which Hernández has failed to do. Now he is charged with emulating Contepomi's creativity from inside centre - his job being to fire the Pumas backs into life. It's a high demand. There is no questioning his talent, but we haven't been wowed by Hernández for some time. It would be a great pity for him to never do that again.

Head to Head: The number nines. Fast ball unlocks defences, but you don't need to tell Ruan Pienaar that because the whole of South Africa will be jumping on his back if his delivery doesn't clock into the nanoseconds. A King in Europe but maligned in his homeland, Pienaar plays smart but against a Pumas team that wants a territorial scrap, the key is to get wide and quickly.

What Argentina need is solidity and secure ball, which is where the onus falls on Martín Landajo. His combination with Sánchez continues to improve but it's his kicking game, especially when Argentina are under pressure, that will prove vital. The best Argentinian number nine since Agustín Pichot, Landajo with over 30 caps is no longer a rookie. He has to kick on.

Previous Results:
2013: South Africa won 22-17 in Mendoza
2013: South Africa won 73-13 in Soweto
2012: Drew 16-16 in Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6 in Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 63-9 in Johannesburg
2007: South Africa won 37-13 in Paris (RWC)
2005: South Africa won 34-23 in Buenos Aires
2004: South Africa won 39-7 in Buenos Aires
2003: South Africa