Pretoria –The Springboks will be eager to break their four-year title drought when they kick off their Rugby Championship campaign against Argentina in Pretoria on Saturday.
Before even considering beating New Zealand for the first time in two years to lift the trophy, the Boks first need to get past the capable South Americans.
“We can't look at what is going to happen against Australia and New Zealand Ä the most important game right now is tomorrow,” Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said on Friday.
“It is important to start well and get confidence back for the team. We ended off well in the incoming tour and now it is about taking that momentum and building on it.”
The team completed three Test victories against Wales and Scotland in June but the latest combinations looked slightly different from those in action at the time.
A new centre pairing between De Villiers and debutant Damian de Allende would be tested on Saturday, while the Springbok captain would also have Handre Pollard on his inside for the first time.
After making a promising debut against Scotland, Pollard would be looking to further substantiate his acclaim.
De Villiers said the 20-year-old had already proved himself at this level and looked forward to having two youngsters on either side of him on Saturday.
“Handre has been selected there because the coach feels he is good enough to play at this level. He showed it in Port Elizabeth against Scotland,” De Villiers said.
“What I've seen of him, he ticks all the boxes of a world-class flyhalf and I am very excited to play alongside him.
“It will be my first time playing with him and my first time with Damian, at international level, playing on my outside.”
Promising lock Lood de Jager, one of the stars from the June internationals, would also form a new second-row combination with Bok stalwart Bakkies Botha.
De Jager would play number-five lock, a position for which he had been groomed, to eventually replace Victor Matfield, who had been sidelined for this Test with a knee injury.
De Villiers believed De Jager would rise to the occasion, especially with the experienced Botha next to him.
“We've got a guy like Bakkies back who will give a lot of experience to a guy like Lood in an unfamiliar position. He's done fantastically well at five lock and taking care of the lineout.
“It will be a nice challenge in that regard but the strength of our team is the actual team and not just the individuals.”
Argentina were traditionally strong in their set-pieces and although there had been indications they would also play with more width, De Villiers believed the toughest battles would be fought up front.
“We will be hoping to have dominance at first phase and we will be looking to get our set pieces right, to get our scrums, lineouts and kick-offs right. If we can get that nice platform, hopefully we can get enough ball to attack from.”
Much of the focus this week had been the breakdowns, knowing the Boks would face the dangerous loose forward duo of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Manuel Leguizamon.
“They have a good loose trio, quality players, and guys like Leguizamon and Lobbe that have been around quite a while,” De Villiers said.
“They've shown at club and international level what they are capable of and we are looking forward to the battle of the breakdown. We've got a good combination as well.”
Argentina would be looking for their maiden Rugby Championship victory under new coach Daniel Hourcade, after losing 11 and drawing one Test since they were incorporated into the Southern Hemisphere competition. – Sapa