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Jake's advice to those Boks who will miss the RWC cut

OPINION: I remember having a debate with the great Johann Rupert. He had bet me that the ‘Pumas have beaten the Springboks before’.

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I said: ‘No you are wrong, they have never beaten the Springboks.’

He said: ‘No, they have – and beat them in South Africa.’

Eventually, with a smile, he apologised to me and said: ‘Okay, it wasn’t the Pumas. They were called the Jaguares.’

That’s because the squad the South Americans had brought over included a few Chileans and Uruguayans.

From memory, it was back when Hugo Porta was playing, so in effect it was a Test team in all but name. The irony of that conversation was that every South African coach had bragging rights about the fact they had never lost to Argentina.

Anyway, I was able to maintain that record, but I remember we got very close to losing in Buenos Aries. It was back in 2005, a game notable for the fact Jean de Villiers accidentally pushed Lucas Borges into the moat.

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We were down at half-time and I vividly remember the speech I gave. I said to the players in the changing room, “I want you to look at the player on your left and your right.”

They looked at me in a funny way, so I said: “No, do it.” They did and I said: “Look at each other because you will be remembered as the first group of players to ever lose to Argentina in a Test match if you don’t start playing.” Our performance picked up and we played pretty well in the second half to come away with a 34-23 win.

No Springboks side ever wanted to be the first to lose to Los Pumas but it has happened three times since 2015. Under Heyneke Meyer in 2015, Allister Coetzee in 2016 and even Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in 2018 when they were turning the team around.

That sums up how far Los Pumas have come –and they have also beaten New Zealand, Australia and away in recent years.

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Interestingly, I listened to current Argentina boss Michael Cheika being interviewed pre-game last weekend in Johannesburg. He talked about changing his players’ mindset. One of the things he had worked hardest on was becoming a little less ‘Latin’ on the field of play. You know, not to be too overly emotional and to be more calculated.

This starts with not giving too many cards away and you can see their discipline has already improved. In the past, you used to be able to get under their skin and guarantee you would be playing against 14 men for a while.

Their fitness and conditioning have also improved because they are playing abroad rather than at local, more amateur clubs. Look at how they scored two late tries against the Boks to only lose by a point. Still, the feeling pre-game was that the Boks would win comfortably. I listened to a DJ on the radio saying the Boks would “win by 30 points”.

Informed rugby fans would have known that was an inflated prediction but even so, most people would have expected to win a bit more comfortably. However, as I have stated before, the days of sides running up cricket scores against the Pumas are long gone.

I remember it was a massive upset when they came third in the World Cup in 2007, and if you go back a little further, I remember when Alex ‘Grizz’ Wylie headed down there to coach. At the time it was seen as a huge coup, a real statement of intent.

Now you look at Chieka bringing Felipe Contepomi’s intellect back. Their game, which was always through the maul and the scrum is completely different. The bringing in of sevens stars like Rodrigo Isgro and Lautaro Bazan Velez is smart and you see the kind of pace they have in the backs. It used to be about the bajada and the maul. Not anymore.

If you look at the Boks, the team that narrowly won 22-21 was basically the team the public would have chosen. Malcolm Marx was back, Pieter-Steph du Toit was starting and that is why there was a bit of deflation after the game.

You can’t keep the South African fans down for long, however, and the latest narrative is: ‘This is wonderful, we have underdog tags going into a World Cup’. You have to love the fans.

This weekend’s rematch is a real chance for Argentina to measure where they are. For us, it’s a massive test of our strength in depth. The motivation for many of the players is that they are fighting for their lives and a squad place for the World Cup – it’s the final audition.

There are no more chances and you are not going to get more desperate than that. The message is that it is last chance saloon for many of the guys that headed out to Argentina.

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Of the players rested and left at home, you would have to say there is a very, very good chance of them being named in the 33-man squad next Tuesday.

On Saturday, the coaches will be giving a chance to those players who haven’t played too much as a thank-you for their efforts this year. However, for the boys who don’t make the cut, my message would be don’t give up hope.

I saw one stat that 30 percent of players who are left behind generally end up at the World Cup through injury, so keep in shape and keep your phone on!

When looking at the composition of the 33-man squad, this is where being a utility player becomes indispensable. For instance, in the back row, Kwagga Smith will go because he can play six, seven or eight. He will be back up to Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph and Marco van Staden who are my starters.

If I was wearing my coaching cap, that is how I read their selection. I still think they will find a reason to take Siya Kolisi even if he can only play the last two pool games. He is so important to the squad.

Only the other day, I was telling my wife on a walk: “What some people don’t understand is that the World Cup is unique because you can’t just chop and change players. If a player goes home, that is final”.

If a player gets a concussion for two weeks, a tweaked hammy or a stinger, or even flu, you can’t just replace him for a game or two. There is no halfway house, so there is a lot to be said for playing in a few positions.

Take players like Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams and even Jaden Hendrikse, they can all play on the wing at a push. Then you have Damian Willemse who can play 10, 12 and 15. These players are worth their weight in gold.

Up front, I feel the Springboks will take six props – that goes without saying – and three hookers. At hooker, it’s whether they take Joseph Dweba or Deon Fourie, who can play hooker and on the flank.

When you have a fit squad and everyone is available, everyone is happy, but the World Cup doesn’t work like that. The longer it goes on, the more you are problem-solving.

Lastly, a lot of things that Jacques said this week are quite valid.

He said the rotation of the Boks in the last couple of weeks could prove to be a strength in the tournament.

The one thing they have done in the last five years is consistently pick the same players and the fact they have finally shuffled the pack could be a masterstroke.

The World Cup is nearly upon us.

By Jake White, RugbyPass

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