South Africa v Argentina - Teams and Predictions
RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND ONE: After pulling out of last year’s tournament, the Springboks are back to defend their Rugby Championship title.
The Springboks rejoin the All Blacks, Wallabies and Los Pumas after South Africa opted out of last year’s tournament due to concerns over player welfare and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Fresh from a 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions, coach Jacques Nienaber has kept a promise to rest many stars by making 12 changes to the matchday 23.
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi, fellow forwards Jasper Wiese, Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth and scrumhalf Cobus Reinach are the five starters retained.
Argentina have made one change, replacing scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli with Felipe Ezcurra, from the team that began a win over Wales last month.
Hooker Julian Montoya, for many seasons the understudy of now-retired Argentine rugby legend Agustin Creevy at franchise and Test levels, is the skipper.
Since a first-round exit from the 2019 World Cup in Japan, the Los Pumas have won three Tests, drawn three and lost one.
The victories included a stunning 25-15 triumph last year over New Zealand in Australia, ending a 36-year wait to achieve the historic feat.
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Just happy to play
For the second straight year, Los Pumas will contest the entire Southern Hemisphere showpiece away from home.
Having completed marathon stints of hotel quarantine just to get to Australia last year, Argentina have had an easier preparation this time around and even managed to get in some warm-up games against a Wales team that was missing all of its Lions contingents.
Mario Ledesma’s side drew the first Test 20-all, but were far too strong in the second match, winning 33-11.
However, despite their much-better preparation season, the Los Pumas will have to be in fine form when they go head-to-head against the World Champs.
Ledesma’s side arrived in South Africa on Monday and have a short space of time to find their feet and adapt to the new rules ahead of their first Rugby Championship opener against Springboks.
“We are happy to be here and happy to compete,” Ledesma told reporters earlier this week.
“With everything that is happening around the world, especially the conditions in our country and South Africa in terms of Covid it quite difficult.
“So being here and playing in the Rugby Champs and doing what we love is really a big thing.
He added: “I think back home there is a lot of uncertainty and day-to-day life is pretty tough so just being able to play the World Champions in South Africa is a privilege.”
‘The mutual respect’
Argentina has only won against the Springboks at home once, with only two wins and a draw dating back to the first official Test between both nations in 1993.
At Durban’s Kings Park in 2015, Los Pumas beat the Springboks 37-25, and the following year in Salta, Argentina, a last-minute penalty gave the home side the win.
The strong feeling of friendship between both nations, dating back to the first-ever international tour to the country in 1965, where the name Los Pumas was first used, is huge.
It won’t be noticeable at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, however, as both teams will try to impose themselves in what promises to be an epic battle of the forwards.
“It is a challenge to play against them, they have big pack,” said Springbok captain Siya Kolisi.
“We’ve had a lot of tough battles against each other. They pride themselves in their mauls and scrums, just like us. It really makes it difficult because we have similar styles of play in terms of scrummaging and mauling.
“They are a team that I truly respect and you have to turn up when you play against them, its mutual respect.”
He added: “We certainly looking forward to the challenge.”
Springboks assistant coach Mzwandile Stick shared his captain’s sentiments.
“I have to be honest and admit it is going to be tough against Argentina,” Stick said.
“If you look at the games they played against Wales away from home and they managed to get good results, so it is going to be challenging.”
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Players to watch:
For South Africa: Livewire Bordeaux-Begles hooker Joseph Dweba wins a first cap and wing Aphelele Fassi and tighthead prop Wilco Louw will be closely watched. A fullback for Durban franchise the Sharks, Fassi gets a second start after scoring a superb try in a win over Georgia last month. Louw from London club Harlequins, a forgotten forward who last played for South Africa two seasons ago, won a surprise post-Lions call-up and skipped a queue of top-class props to secure a start.
For Argentina: Felipe Ezcurra will start at scrumhalf in place of the experienced Tomas Cubelli. The No.9 will have major shoes to fill, however, fortunately for him he will be partnered with flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez. Hooker Julian Montoya, who will lead the side, is one to keep a close eye on. Former captain Pablo Matera is always a headache for any opponent and this weekend will be no different as he packs down at flank.
Head to head:
Pack versus pack could be the contest that decides the match. The Springboks will field a relatively unfamiliar front row trio in the shape of Wilco Louw, Joseph Dweba, and Ox Nché, while Los Pumas will depend on Francisco Gomez Kodela, captain Julian Montoya and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro to dominate the scrums. The loose trio is another area that will be highly contested as Jasper Wiese, Albertus ‘Kwagga’ Smith and captain Siya Kolisi will have their hands full against Rodrigo Bruni, Facundo Isa and Pablo Matera. Aside from the forwards, Los Pumas’ backline is another major threat with guys like Bautista Delguy, Jerónimo De La Fuente, Matías Moroni and Nicolás Sánchez. The likes of Damian Willemse, Sbu Nkosi and Elton Jantjies will have to be in fine form.
@rugby365com: South Africa by six points
South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Aphelele Fassi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Joseph Dweba, 1 Ox Nché.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Dan du Preez, 22 Herschel Jantjies, 23 Morné Steyn.
Argentina: 15 Santiago Carreras, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Santiago Chocobares, 12 Jerónimo De La Fuente, 11 Matías Moroni, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Rodrigo Bruni, 7 Facundo Isa, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Marco Kremer, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (Captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacemetbs:16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Carlos Muzzio, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Matias Alemanno, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere
Date: Saturday, August 14
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Gqeberha
Kick-off: 17.05 (12.05 ART; 15.05 GMT)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny with a high of 18°C, low of 9°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Tom Foley (Wales)