PORT ELIZABETH – The Springboks will take another step in their bid for redemption when they host struggling Argentina in the Rugby Championship on Saturday, hoping to build on a 3-0 clean sweep of a home June series against a depleted France.
Springbok rugby was in crisis at the turn of the year after the side lost eight of their 12 Tests in 2016, including historic defeats to Argentina, Italy and Ireland.
Coach Allister Coetzee narrowly survived the axe, and promised the worst was over and that the side would be more competitive this season.
Certainly they were dominant in all facets against France, but the real test of their revival was always going to come in the highly competitive environment of the Rugby Championship.
That moment is now as they host an Argentina side made up almost entirely of players from the Jaguares Super Rugby side that proved competitive at home, but a disappointment on the road.
They won just one of their five matches played in South Africa during the Super Rugby season, though that came on the opening weekend at the Southern Kings at the same Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium where they play the Boks on Saturday.
Coetzee believes they will be up against a different proposition despite it being the same players in a different colour jersey, and says he expects the intensity to be a level higher than what the Super Rugby side produces.
“We are pleased with our preparations and we expect another huge contest from Argentina, a very proud rugby nation,” Coetzee said on Thursday.
“They are excellent in their set-pieces, and have a number of world-class players in this team. Their biggest threat is that they strike from first-phase, hard at the breakdown, looking to turn ball over and get into general attack.”
Both sides have made three changes from their last Test, with the Boks again without regular captain and No 8 Warren Whiteley.
Instead, his place will be taken by Uzair Cassiem, who earns a second cap.
The inclusion of uncapped 20-year-old flyhalf Curwin Bosch on the bench has been well received.
“Curwin is a young player with huge potential and a bright future ahead of him. He showed in the very tough Super Rugby competition that he is a skilful player and a prolific goal-kicker and he covers both fullback and flyhalf,” Coetzee said.
“He is a must... who else should we have selected?”
Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade says he is expecting a more confident Bok side than the one that limped through much of 2016.
“We’re going to come up against a confident South Africa after they won their three tests against France (in June),” Hourcade said, adding he expected them to play an attacking brand of rugby.
“They have not lost their essence in physical contact, but with dynamics you did not see before, (playing) a game more in accordance with Super Rugby as shown by the Lions, Stormers and Sharks.”
Argentina are in need of a lift themselves, with their last 14 Tests producing only three victories, against South Africa in Salta in the Rugby Championship last season, Japan and Georgia.
Reuters, Staff Writer