The Springboks may have spent their first few days in Argentina in the big city of Buenos Aires, but they know what’s coming for them in the rarefied atmosphere of Salta in the Rugby Championship decider on Saturday.
In fact, coach Rassie Erasmus says that they have even equated the mountainous north-western city to South African towns such as Kimberley and Welkom.
With an altitude level of 1 152m, Salta isn’t far off Kimberley’s 1 219m.
And apart from the thin air, Erasmus is also expecting a Los Pumas outfit that will be eager to put one over a big nation before the World Cup – having come close in the 20-16 loss to the All Blacks recently.
“It’s my first time in Salta, but the boys tell me it’s at altitude. We have some tough places in South Africa, like Kimberley and Welkom, and the players and coaches tell me it has a resemblance to that kind of atmosphere,” Erasmus told the Argentine media in Buenos Aires after naming his match-23 on Wednesday.
“Having players who have played there before, we shouldn’t get caught out again with the type of environment we are going to play in.
“And we just know the passion of Argentina when they play at home.
“I myself remember as a player, playing them (here) – especially outside places like Buenos Aires, where they just seem to grow another leg, and are much more tougher to play. It’s going to be a game where we have to grind out a victory.
“Whenever you got the ball, they were just cutting your legs off – really physical. From one to 23, there’s not one player who can’t leg-tackle, and I think that’s exceptional for them to keep in the game. A physical team: breakdown, mauling, tackling.”
The former loose forward has opted for the same front row that finished so strongly in the 16-16 draw with the All Blacks in Wellington – Tendai Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane – in the only changes to the starting XV.
But Erasmus wants to see an improvement in the lineouts, where the Boks lost some vital throw-ins in both the first and second half at the Westpac Stadium.
And doing that will lead to the Rugby Championship title.
“I guess the most important thing is that we weren’t great at the lineouts last weekend. Our scrums were pretty good when this front row came on, so we’d like to keep on doing that,” he said.
“I thought we were pretty good on our defence. I think if we improve in all the different facets of the game, that’s the only we are going to win the game. And that’s how, at the end of the day, we will win the Championship.
“We like to break it down in small little battles if we can. I think that’s the only way. If we start looking at Rugby Championship and World Cups and those things, I think we might lose the small little battles that will win you the match.
“If you just look at the scoreboard and don’t analyse the game, you can get side-tracked by the results. But if you analyse the game, the last maul which New Zealand stopped here, I think it could’ve been fairly close to a penalty to Argentina, and Argentina could’ve won for the first time in history against New Zealand.”
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