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Mendoza, Argentina – The main street that runs through the city of Mendoza, San Martin Avenue, is named after an Argentinian hero who back in the 19th century passed through the area as he led an army in the famous Crossing of the Andes.
Setting out from Mendoza, the crossing took 21 days and turned out to be one of the most important feats in the Argentinian and Chilean wars of independence. A couple of centuries later, and the region of Mendoza finds itself at the heart of another historic battle, with the Springboks and Pumas set to engage in unforgiving trench warfare on Saturday night (9.10pm kickoff SA time).
In fact, the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas – originally built for the 1978 Soccer World Cup – is located at the General San Martin Park, which will play host to what will be Argentina’s maiden home match of the Rugby Championship.
And with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer taking charge of his first Test overseas, he admitted it was going to be a potentially season-defining battle for Jean de Villiers’s Boks.
“It will be a significant difference playing away from home, so we actually need to make a 50 percent step up from last weekend. It’s the first game for me and the team away from home. We don’t want to be a team that makes excuses, but we do have a young pack with some players that don’t have that many Test caps,” he said.
“The only way they can grow, though, is by playing and learning through experience. Mentally and physically, we were up for the game last weekend, but there were just too many soft moments. Although I thought our defence was a big improvement from the England series, there were a lot of opportunities on attack that we didn’t finish. Having said that, the Argentinian defence was outstanding.”
Meyer’s decision to reshuffle the loose trio in order to accommodate the hulking figures of both Willem Alberts and Jacques Potgieter indicates that they are intent on emphatically stamping their authority on the physicality front the second time around.
“The first Test match was extremely physical, and I was actually a bit worried going into that game about possibly not having enough ball-carriers,” Meyer said. “Argentina were very physical, and I think people don’t always give them the credit that is due in that regard. They are a well-balanced, quality side.”
Springbok hooker and new vice-captain Adriaan Strauss is promising a drastic improvement in tomorrow’s Test. “There were many lost opportunities out there last week. One thing we must also take into consideration is that this is still Test rugby, and that game was physical and tough. We’ve had a good week in the training sessions and have worked very hard. We will improve,” Strauss said.
Strauss, who was a replacement in last week’s Test for Bismarck du Plessis, who injured his knee early in the game, believes that the Boks will need to gain dominance in the collision, scrums and at the breakdown if they are to dictate proceedings.
“I think the physical aspect will be crucial. Last week, we did well in the drives and they also did well, the scrums were tough, and they did well at ruck-time. We need to clean up our act at ruck-time and make a step up on physicality,” Strauss said.
It is ironic that Strauss will return to Mendoza to play in the very same stadium where the SA Under-21 team won the IRB Championship in 2005 and Strauss had played in the final against New Zealand because of an injury to Du Plessis.
“I’ve been on the fringes since I played in my first Test in 2008. It is a great honour to be in the starting line-up. It is tough losing Bismarck, because he is an outstanding leader and player,” Strauss said. “I need to prove a point every single week, and one needs to be at your best.”
For the first time since arriving in Mendoza, the Springboks woke up to rainy weather on Thursday, but it is expected to clear for the weekend.
Last weekend, the Boks battled to maintain momentum for the full 80 minutes, but they will be looking to a somewhat new-look forward pack to win the collisions and establish the gainline dominance that they thrive on, and which provides the platform for Morné Steyn to control proceedings
Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (capt), 7 Alvaro Galindo, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero. Bench: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Leonardo Senatore, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Martin Landajo, 21 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 22 Juan Imhoff.
Springboks: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Bryan Habana, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jacques Potgieter, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Tendai Mtawarira. Bench: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Ruan Pienaar, 21 Pat Lambie, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Referee: Steve Walsh. Kickoff: 9.10pm SA time. TV: M-Net/SS1/SS HD. – Cape Times