Pumas go beefy against Boks
Cape Town - The selection of three props in their front row to tackle the Springboks suggests that Argentina are going to do their level best to retain a proud tradition for strong scrummaging in the Castle Rugby Championship opener at Newlands on Saturday.
Their “bajada” technique, where everyone in the pack focuses the power effort on the hooker, is the stuff of legend, although in more recent years they have arguably been less effective at this particular set piece than in the past.
But the inclusion on Tuesday of 30-year-old Eusebio Guinazu, no stranger to the Stormers, at No 2 against the Boks seems to be a signal that they fancy a genuine crack at the host nation at scrum time.
The 114kg Guinazu is more accustomed to loosehead prop - he started there in the experimental Pumas’ last Test against France at Tucuman in June - but he is probably now being earmarked as the replacement, at least in the shortish term, in the middle of the front row for the incredibly long-serving Mario Ledesma.
Ledesma has retired from Test rugby at the ripe old age of 39 although the veteran of four World Cups soldiers on for the time being in the French league, where so many Argentinean forwards, especially, ply their trade.
Guinazu was never able to set the Super Rugby world alight in a brief stint with Boland (which thus made him eligible for the Stormers) two years ago - he was mostly curtailed to bench duty as Wicus Blaauw
, whose career has rather stalled subsequently, made encouraging strides in the No 1 jersey.
He has always been considered to have front row utility value, however, and it will be interesting to see whether the oomph he will be expected to add to the Pumas’ scrum at hooker will be accompanied by slick throwing in at the lineout and suitable work-rate around the park on Saturday.
His task is hardly made any easier by knowledge that he directly opposes probably the leading hooker on the world stage at present in Bismarck du Plessis, who may nevertheless be vulnerable on this occasion to fatigue after the Sharks’ unprecedented travel schedule of recent weeks.
Argentina’s props for their keenly-awaited debut in this expanded competition are the expected ones: Rodrigo Roncero at loosehead and the rather younger Juan Figallo at No 3.
Roncero is also no spring chicken at 35, and he earns his 50th cap against the Boks in this Test.
The Stade Francais stalwart also finds himself in the presumably very rare position, as a qualified doctor, of going head to head with another medical specialist, in-form Bok tighthead Jannie du Plessis.
Meanwhile another member of the expected all-Sharks Bok front row, Beast Mtawarira
, must steel himself for the challenge of 24-year-old Figallo, the Montpellier-based scrumming anchor who was widely lauded at the 2011 World Cup, where the Pumas were quarter-finalists, as one of the best tightheads at the tournament.
Roncero and Figallo were the starting props when Argentina bravely bowed out to eventual champions New Zealand at the last-eight stage at RWC 2011, beaten 33-10 although it was much closer than that for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, with Pierre Spies suddenly ruled out
of the entire tournament, whoever fills the void at No 8 for the Boks - the South African team is announced on Wednesday - will be up against the Pumas’ captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, their second most capped forward behind Roncero with 43 appearances already to his name.
The Argentina starting XV sports five survivors from the last encounter between these sides, when the Boks ran riot 63-9 against the ill-prepared Pumas at Coca-Cola Park in 2008: Lobbe, left wing Horacio Agulla, scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo, Roncero and lock Patricio Albacete.
Now that Spies is ruled out, the Bok players in similar positions are expected to be just Mtawarira, the younger of the Du Plessis brothers and now-captain Jean de Villiers.Teams:South Africa:
15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Horacio Agulla; 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Nicolas Vergallo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), 7 Alvaro Galindo, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero
Substitutes: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Tomas Leonardi, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Martin Rodriguez*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing