Jean de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town – It is terribly tempting to view the Springboks’
so-so showing in the Castle Rugby Championship opener at Newlands as a case of
“one point lost” rather than “four points gained” in log terms.
Certainly at least one leading national Sunday newspaper
seemed a little generous to South Africa with their “Springboks crush
Argentina” front-page headline.
Crush? That may have been stretching things a tad, when you
consider that after leading by a threatening 20-3 as early as the 28th
minute against opponents very likely to be the weakest of the quartet in their
maiden year, the Boks could only manage seven more points over the course of
the remaining 52.
Arguably, South Africa are just a little on the back foot
already in some respects against their more traditional southern hemisphere
foes, New Zealand and Australia, considering their failure to land the killer
fourth try against the Pumas.
The Wallabies still look like a less than thoroughly
convincing outfit, with some weakness in key positions – evident as they lost
by eight points to the All Blacks in Sydney -- but with their fluid style of
play no doubt target a full house when Argentina visit their shores in
You would also favour the eternally multi-skilled world
champions to record at least four tries against the Pumas in Wellington next
That is why the Boks being ambitious enough to target not
only a back-to-back victory over Argentina in Mendoza this Saturday (21:10 SA
time) but also the extra point to make up for what they failed to achieve at
Newlands, is potentially important in the great scheme of things.
And while just winning itself can obviously hardly be taken
for granted, it is possible that the landscape may actually be more favourable
for South Africa to grab the “maximum” points haul.
You got a mild feeling at Newlands that the Pumas, deep
down, knew they weren’t going to win in their first exposure to the tough
former Tri-Nations, and were reasonably content to keep the score down.
Their “losing lap of honour” after the final whistle,
knowing that they had done a decent second-half shutout of the Boks, just
suggested as much.
Before their famously noisy, emotional home faithful at the
Malvinas Argentinas Stadium this weekend, the Pumas may well wish to produce a
more up-tempo and daring brand of rugby in the not unrealistic quest for an
And that, should it occur, could also play conveniently into
the hands of the Boks, who may have looked worryingly staid in creative terms
last Saturday but had shown, at times in the prior series against England, a
sprightly ability to put the ball through hands deftly – especially from
broken-play or counter-attacking situations.
Although Argentinean rugby is getting more and more
street-smart, primarily through the increasing exposure of their best players
to French and broader European rugby, history still tells you that the Boks
have a pretty good habit of scoring “high” in Argentina.
Although all of their last three away Tests against these
foes since 2000 have been in Buenos Aires, South Africa have always posted at least
34 points on the board themselves and, in 2004, won particularly comfortably
A year later (and the last time the Boks have played in
Argentina) it was 34-23 -- the game when tempers flared after Jean de Villiers,
now the Bok captain, barged the Pumas’ Lucas Borges over some advertising
hoardings and head-first into a perimeter moat while not unreasonably trying to
retrieve the ball from him.
Quick-thinking De Villiers grabbed him by a leg and hauled
him back up, but it started a real old kerfuffle and De Villiers a little
unluckily received a yellow card.
Some Pumas fans may not have forgotten that incident and
could give the Stormers favourite a hot reception anew on Saturday, although he
is a seasoned enough customer not to be unnerved.
There is another factor in the South Africans’ favour this
weekend: speaking ahead of the Newlands meeting, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer had reminded
at a press briefing that the immediate back-to-back scheduling could benefit
“We fly back to Argentina with them, which could take a bit
of the edge off the home team – they can’t be said to be lying in wait for us
on their home turf, where they are especially strong.”
With later acknowledgement from Meyer on Saturday night that
his charges, while defending staunchly, had lacked some edge on attack, it is
not beyond the bounds of possibility that – also armed with greater knowledge
now of the Pumas’ 2012 philosophy – the Boks may even prevail more satisfyingly
in Mendoza than they did in the Cape ...
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