Boks out to spoil Pumas' party
Bismarck du Plessis (Gallo)
Johannesburg - South Africa intend to be party poopers Saturday when Argentina debut in the southern hemisphere rugby union championship following many years as outcasts.
After 16 seasons of Tri-Nations fare featuring Australia, New Zealand and the Springboks, intense lobbying by the Pumas has been rewarded with inclusion in the renamed, double-round Rugby Championship.
A 2005 draw with the British and Irish Lions and third place at the 2007 World Cup gave Argentine officials the ammunition needed to press for regular competition, and now the real battle begins at Newlands stadium in Cape Town.
Few doubt the ability of the Pumas to compete at home against the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks - ranked one, two and three respectively in the world - but there is less certainty about the ability to cope far from the Pampas.
Upbeat coach and former Argentina flank Santiago Phelan says: "A lot of hard work has gone into ensuring we produce a good game and I believe playing against the three best teams in the world will help us improve.
"We are very excited and happy. Argentina have waited for this opportunity for a very long time and the six Tests we play during the next eight weeks are so important to us."
Argentine preparations at home from June included a victory over Italy, a shared two-match series with depleted France and a win and loss against French Top 14 club Stade Francais.
After fielding virtually all-local sides in the three Tests, professionals based in France and England bolstered the Pumas and 14 of the side that started in a 31-17 triumph over Stade last weekend will run out against South Africa.
The lone change comes at inside centre with Santiago Fernandez returning in place of Martin Rodriguez while injury-prone flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez is back after a three-year Test absence.
Veteran loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero wins his 50th cap in a pack led by world class No 8 and captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and famed for its scrummaging and mauling.
"The Pumas have a great scrum, they are great maulers and I have noticed that their strength has improved, as well as fitness levels," Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said.
"Having watched a lot of footage of Argentina games and coached two players in the present squad while I was head coach of Leicester four years ago, I know how they play."
Hooker Bismarck du Plessis, one of three South African survivors from a 63-9 Johannesburg romp when the countries last met in 2008, is relishing the chance to tackle new Championship opponents.
"It will be nice to have a different team to play against and new opponents to square up to," he said ahead of round 14 between the Springboks and the Pumas with the two-time world champions having won all the previous 13 Tests.
"There is a lot of respect between us and them and a healthy rivalry on the rugby field. South Africa helped develop Argentine rugby, so it is fitting that we play them first in the Championship."
Meyer has made six changes to the team held at home by England in their last Test during June, but a survivor, flyhalf Morne Steyn, is under pressure after the usually deadly place kicker missed 12 of 20 shots at goal in the three-Test series.
A finger injury to No 8 Pierre Spies means the less physically imposing Keegan Daniel starts a Test for the first time and Meyer says "this is a step up for him, but he has got an X-factor and creates things".