DURBAN – When the Pumas run out in front of their home crowd in Salta tonight (kickoff 9.40pm SA time) they will have the might of the 20 000 strong crowd behind them.
They will also have near on 800 Test caps in a changed up team, heavy with experience. The Springboks will only have 344 combined caps.
Looking at that astounding stat it really looks to be men against boys as the Boks prepare to face up to their biggest challenge of the year with this trying trip to the high plains of north-west Argentina.
Additionally, 92 of their caps belong to one man, Tendai Mtawarira, with the next highest capped player 25-year-old captain Eben Etzebeth with 57, and then no one else behind him with more than 30 games in the green and gold.
Many of the players who have made this trip to Salta have done so for the first time.
Last year, when the Boks lost 24-26 at the same ground, 118-capped legend Bryan Habana was starting, along with 61-capped Morné Steyn, Adriaan Strauss (58 caps) and Francois Louw (47) - all very experienced Springboks.
The disparity in experience between the two sides is not concerning the Bok coach as Allister Coetzee makes one defining difference between the side he took last year, that had closer to 600 caps, in comparison to this one - and it is their maturity.
“Last year’s team was actually a bit older than this year’s team,” Coetzee said from Salta on naming his 344-cap team. “The difference is we have young players in terms of their Test caps, but they are matured players. They have played for a long time in Super Rugby.”
Coetzee has looked for Super Rugby form in picking his side this year, which is also proved in the majority of Lions players in the side. He has not gone on reputation alone, letting the likes of 28-year-old Ross Cronjé and 26-year-old Courtnall Skosan make their debuts after proving their worth through years of Super Rugby brilliance.
“The team is reasonably experienced, although not in Test caps, but in terms of rugby,” Coetzee added.
“The continuity this year has also given us a great platform to build from, keeping momentum after the French Test series.”
Coetzee does note that the team he brought last year to Salta was far more experienced, but it was also one that was made up with a number of overseas-based Boks, which came with its own issues.
There were always whispers of discontent from local-based players who would be shunned come Test week when players like Francois Louw from Bath in England, or Morné Steyn from Stade Francais in France, would drop into the starting line-up without much time in the Springbok structures.
Now, however, the synergy of this side is such that although they have not seen it all in the Test arena, they are going through it together with the continuity of playing in combinations at club level, as well as at Springbok level.
“It is a completely different team to last year’s team,” Coetzee explained. “We had a few experienced players like Bryan Habana playing here (in Salta), captain Adriaan Strauss here, Morné Steyn... very experienced players.
“What I am saying is they have all the Test experience, but maybe they had not been training with us and there was no continuity because they are also overseas based players.”
But this is a rebuilding phase for the Boks, and one that looks to have a solid foundation poured and in place. Coetzee seems to be enjoying the challenges that are coming his, and his team’s, way as it is only making them better as they learn.
“We understand it will be a difficult Test match, but for us, with this team, the more challenges we face, the better we will become as a team,” said Coetzee.
Meanwhile, Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade has rung the changes in the hopes of getting one over on a settled Bok side.
There are six changes, and four of those are in the forwards
Lucas Noguera Paz will replace Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro at loosehead prop, with Ramiro Herrera coming in for Enrique Pieretto on the tighthead.
Matías Alemanno replaces Guido Petti at lock.
The final change in the pack sees Juan Leguizamó* coming in at No.8 for the injured Leonardo Senatore.
The two changes in the backline sees two new halfbacks - Tomás Cubelli at scrumhalf for Martin Landajo and Juan Martín Hernández at flyhalf for Nicolás Sánchez.