Boks know what to expect
Johann van Graan (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - Springbok forwards coach Johann van Graan said insights gleaned from Argentina's most recent Test performances suggest they have embodied Northern Hemisphere-style rugby.
Van Graan was speaking to reporters in Cape Town on Tuesday ahead of Saturday's Rugby Championship opener between the Boks and Los Pumas at Newlands.
The performance of the Springbok pack will be crucial given that Argentina's playing pattern revolves mainly around the strength and power of their forwards.
"I've worked out after looking at their most recent Tests that Argentina are favouring a Northern Hemisphere type of game," said Van Graan.
"They like to maul from lineouts, and they have several options as jumpers.
"We don't know which team they will pick, but they're likely to have four or five jumpers for the lineouts."
The Boks laid great emphasis on their tactical kicking skills at training this week because it has become a major aspect of Test match rugby.
"The [tactical] kicking roles of numbers nine and 10 have become so vital in Test rugby and we have world-class players in those positions," said Van Graan.
"In the past, the Boks had Fourie du Preez, who I rate as the best tactical kicker of all time, so [scrumhalf] Francois Hougaard has got big boots to fill."
Statistics of the modern game show that many penalties and free-kicks are awarded for scrum infringements.
"We found that with the scrum you have to plan for penalties and free-kicks because so many are awarded in a match these days," said Van Graan. "We've had to work on [our] attack from these situations."
The kick-off reception is one area that Van Graan feels has been neglected, but he pointed out that teams had reaped great rewards for gathering at the restarts.
"We've seen how teams have gone on to score tries after taking the kick-offs and that shows it has become a very important part of the modern game.
"My feeling is that is an aspect that teams spend the least time on."
The Boks' lock selection is not clear at this stage, given the health concerns of Eben Etzebeth and to a lesser extent, Andries Bekker. The Sharks have recently used flanker Willem Alberts with great success at lock.
"We have four world-class locks, but we need to see how Eben comes through [at training] first before we make a call.
"Andries brings the experience and he can become one of the all-time lineout greats. He understands lineouts so well and it's great that he played with Victor Matfield previously. I've also been impressed with his speed around the park.
"At Test match level, not much ball is thrown to the back of lineouts so your jumpers further inside are important.
"I still have to talk about selection with the coach, but whoever is chosen will take to carry the responsibility for efficient line-out work.
"Alberts has been used at lock by the Sharks, but I consider him to be one of the most devastating blindside flankers in world rugby.
"Our front-row is right up there with the best in the world and one can never be satisfied with your set-pieces."