Beunos Aires – Let’s say it as it is: the Springboks are a bit of a mix-’n-match outfit right now. And all they’ll really be concerned about is bagging four Rugby Championship points. Anything beyond that will be a bonus.
Bok boss Heyneke Meyer isn’t expecting any major fireworks from his players when they go up against Argentina in Salta tomorrow evening, and neither should the South African public.
Several factors have conspired against the Boks in the last few weeks – chief among them the forgettable Test at Loftus Versfeld a week ago – so if Meyer and his charges can leave South America on Sunday evening having won two out of two he’ll take it with a smile.
Meyer learnt very little about his players and state of the team as a whole in the wet conditions in Pretoria and was just relieved the Boks could hang on for the win. Taking that into account, and factoring in the absence of Willem Alberts (and several other players), the Boks have had to just about start from scratch this week.
The major concern from last week – the performance of the Boks in the set-pieces – is understandably the big talking point.
A battling performance in the scrums and line-outs forced Meyer to change three players in his pack – bringing in Gurthrö Steenkamp in the front row, Eben Etzebeth in the locks and Juan Smith in the loose-trio.
While all three players on their day are world-class, they come into a team with question marks behind their names; Meyer knowing he is gambling to some degree with them.
All three men have spent a fair amount of time on the sidelines recently and in the case of Etzebeth and Smith, neither trained fully with their teammates this week.
They, however, have been tasked with strengthening the line-out even though Etzebeth has never played alongside rookie Lood de Jager and Smith hasn’t played Test rugby for nearly four years. It’s a big ask for them, and Meyer knows it.
“It’s frustrating that there’s so little continuity again,” said Meyer. “While it’s great to have guys like Eben and Juan back the fact is they haven’t played in a long time.”
But it’s not only up front where things look a little wobbly. At the back Handré Pollard is coming off a poor showing in the wet in Pretoria, while in the centres Jean de Villiers and Damian de Allende hardly got a chance to get to know each other.
Pollard especially faces a big test. Meyer said it was just fair he and De Allende got another crack at Test rugby, so they now need to make the most of the opportunity.
The only encouraging news going into the Salta match is that it’s likely to be a hot and dry day.
That will allow them to play the fast-paced game they’re seeking, but that won’t be enough for the Boks to win. If Meyer’s men are to triumph – something they’ve struggled to do here in the past – then it’s going to have to be the pack that gets them over the line.
They’ve got the backs to cause a few problems and score the tries, but the hard men, the enforcers, in the forwards have to lay the platform.
Kick-off is at 9.40pm.
Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Manuel Montero, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Paul Matera, Thomas Lavanini, Mariano Galarza, Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (capt), Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: Matias Cortese, Bruno Postiglioni, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matias Alemanno, Leonardo Senatore, Tomas Cubelli, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Horacio Agulla
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (capt), Bryan Habana, Handré Pollard, Ruan Pienaar, Duane Vermeulen, Juan Smith, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Eben Etzebeth, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: Adriaan Strauss, Tendai Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe, Bakkies Botha, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard, Morné Steyn, Lwazi Mvovo - The Star