Played 2, won 2, and the Boks head into the Tri-Nations part of the Rugby Championship at the top of the table. Difficult to fault, especially as the South African’s always get Argentina firing on all cylinders at the beginning of the tournament.
And this year, Argentina’s best players had also enjoyed a month long camp under new coach Daniel Hourcade, hence the more cohesive performance based not only on a power scrum, but also some enterprising ball in hand stuff in Salta.
That they are ranked 12th in the world is deceptive given that they spend the season outside of the Rugby Champs fielding the players who do not play their trade in Europe. And that side is more Vodacom Cup Pampas-like, then Rugby Champs Pumas-like.
They will take heart from how close they came to beating the Boks in both games, especially the burglary in Salta, but given that they are once again spectators on the log, I suspect there will be a smidgen less fire in the belly against the Aussies and Kiwis. That said, I cannot wait to see how our Super Rugby brethren go against the Bajada, now without doubt the Pumas biggest weapon again.
Battered and bruised up front, and that would include a few egos, the Boks have done well to weather the blue and white storm. On song, using their uniquely abrasive and emotional style, this Argentinian side will live with anything next year’s World Cup will dish up.
But these two games will have indeed raised a few red flags for coach Heyneke Meyer, hence the tweaks to the side to play on Saturday, even though they come with the “We were always planning in moving our personnel around during the tournament,” proviso.
The lack of cover and clear cut development plan at tighthead prop is a giant concern, with “Project Coenie” having set us back two years. The injury to Frans Malherbe is unlucky. Marcel van der Merwe gets switched from loosehead to tighthead by the Bulls and took heat at 3 against the Kings in the Currie Cup. Both Lions tightheads Julian Redelinghuys (especially) and Ruan Dreyer deserve a look in while outsiders like the Pumas Vincent Koch and nuggety Kings tighthead Tom Botha should be included in a proper plan to groom future Bok tightheads. This continual starting of Jannie du Plessis is dreadful player management.
It’s perhaps a little too early to write off Lood de Jager, but he had two very poor Tests against the Pumas. How he gets to collect splinters in Perth ahead of Bakkies Botha is beyond me. Great to see Victor Matfield back, and good to see Stephan Lewies getting back into the game for the Sharks. I like the look of him.
On the side of the scrum I still prefer a rangy or bullocking 7 to balance the trio, but given the non-availability of both Willem Alberts and Juan Smith (that situation smells a little off), and against fetcher supreme Michael Hooper, playing both Francois Louw and Marcell Coetzee, who both play to the ball, has some merit. Warren Whitely leapfrogs Oupa Mohoje onto the bench which will have the politicians spitting bullets, and does not look particularly player friendly. This while the form loose forward of Super Rugby, Nizaam Carr, enjoys a stellar Currie Cup. Perhaps a reflection of the abundance of loose forward talent in SA, though.
Meyer’s obsession with size and defence sees yet another 12 playing at 13. He faces the perennial coaches dilemma - make the tough call and select the best specialist in each position, or opt out and play the so called “Best players” in the XV, even if it means a few playing out of position. Oh to see a nimble footed proper 13 like Juan de Jongh or S’buru Sithole given a chance outside Jean de Villiers! The Boks have to find ways of bringing that lethal back three into the game more.
And lastly, the half backs. A brave call would have seen Tommy the Tourist Cobus Reinach starting with Handre Pollard, who I think deserves an extended stay, or at least a stay that includes a game in which the Bok pack gain some parity. Instead it’s back to what we know, which probably has plenty people breathing a sigh of relief. But with Fourie du Preez out the mix, and Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard not exactly shooting the lights out, taking a look at Reinach makes sense.
Lest we suffer another injury and end up with a situation like the one we have at tighthead!
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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