While Springbok assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher uses the word “excited” a lot, he has quite a calm demeanour. And that is what he expects from the Boks when they face up to an enthusiastic Argentina side at Newlands on Saturday.
Loubscher thinks that Argentina, who traditionally use their forwards to gain dominance with their physicality and kick up-and-unders, will make much greater use of their backs in the Rugby Championship opener.
Youngsters such as centres Juan Imhoff and Marcelo Bosch, as well as fullback-wing Lucas Amorosino, have the ability to put pressure on the Boks with their fancy footwork.
Imhoff was the Vodacom Cup Player of the Tournament a few seasons ago for the Pampas XV. “I watched the Pampas side in the Vodacom Cup in the last few years, and those guys have Sevens experience and love to run with the ball and use the width of the field. They are exciting and when they get ball-in-hand, they are very dangerous,” Loubscher said at a media briefing at a city hotel on Sunday.
“Those guys, in time and space, very dangerous. It has been tough to get footage, as they haven’t played a lot of games and the guys play for different sides.”
But launching those high balls into the Newlands air will most probably still be a key tactic for “Los Pumas”, especially with the boot of returning flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez, who is back in the Argentina side after a three-year absence due to a number of injuries. Hernandez will take charge of the backline as veteran centre and captain Felipe Contepomi has retired.
With the Boks fielding three different fullbacks in the series against England, they may find it difficult to catch those kicks. Zane Kirchner is likely to reclaim the No 15 jersey, with Gio Aplon left out of the squad despite starting the final England Test in Port Elizabeth in June. Kirchner started in the first Test, but was injured and replaced at halftime by Patrick Lambie, who sustained an ankle problem in the second Test.
“You’ve got to make sure that you play the game in the right areas to start off. So, from a kicking-game perspective, it’s important for the guys to understand that you play the game in the right areas and turn those opportunities into points. These guys are professionals and know exactly what to expect – we are expecting a physical game, a kicking game, especially as this is the first Test,” Loubscher said.
“At Test level, your kicking game is a big part of your gameplan. We are just fortunate to have all those guys available for our kicking game, but it’s definitely an area that we are working hard on – in terms of the accuracy and fielding of kicks.”
Loubscher said that the Boks’ counter-attacks were effective against England, and is a weapon they can use to strike against Argentina. And he is confident that halfbacks Francois Hougaard and Morné Steyn, who were not at their best against England, will come good on Saturday.
“Hougie is in a very good space. The week was intense and the guys are excited to be in camp. Morné has been a professional for five to 10 years. He knows what he needs to work on, and I had a nice chat with him about it. He is in a good space, and is excited and looking forward to the Test next week,” said Loubscher, a former Bok wing and fullback.
“Apart from the goal-kicking, I am happy with his play. He played a huge part in some of the tries we scored against England, with good decision-making. The one thing that stood out from the England series was the counter-attack, where we scored a few tries. I’m excited about it, and hopefully we can maintain that.”
Loubscher admitted that losing in-form wing JP Pietersen to a broken thumb was “a big loss”, but he is looking to star centre Frans Steyn to spark the Boks. coach Heyneke Meyer is likely to pick two specialist left wings out wide, with Bryan Habana set to wear the unfamiliar No 14 jersey and Lwazi Mvovo coming in at No 11.
“I don’t think it will make a hell of a difference to have two left wings in the side. These guys can adjust to those situations, so I don’t think it will be a problem for us,” he said. “Frans Steyn makes a massive difference. He is a big part of our gameplan in terms of our ball-carriers, and gets us over the advantage line. It’s actually nice to have him back. I’m excited to see him play next week.
“It’s nice to have that versatility in your team, whether we need him at 10, 12 or 15. He was in good shape against England in those two Tests.”
Meanwhile, Argentina suffered an injury blow in a warm-up game against French club side Stade Francais at the weekend when first-choice hooker Agustin Creevy sustained a broken rib. Creevy has been ruled out of the Newlands Test, with former WP prop-hooker Eusebio Guinazu set to start at No 2 against the Boks.
(All SA times)
August 18: Argentina (Newlands, 5pm).
August 25: Argentina (Mendoza, 9.10pm).
September 8: Australia (Perth, 12.35pm).
September 15: New Zealand (Dunedin, 9.35am).
September 29: Australia (Loftus, 5pm).
October 6: New Zealand (FNB Stadium, 5pm).