Pumas deserve their place

2012-08-17 06:57
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
In my view, the inception of the Rugby Championship is certainly a very good move. I believe bringing in Argentina will freshen things up considerably.

Although the Pumas didn’t have as good a run at the 2011 World Cup as they did in 2007, they do deserve their place in the competition and are a good team, certainly in the top-tier of world rugby.

In 2007, under the leadership of Agustin Pichot, Argentina had a well-balanced side. While they have lost a bit of that experience - Felipe Contepomi most notably unavailable - the return from injury of Juan Martin Hernandez is a major fillip.

Hernandez has had a litany of injuries in recent times, and hasn’t played as much as he would have liked, but is a class player with plenty of flair.

He is certainly a different type of flyhalf to Morne Steyn. Steyn is certainly more of the traditional ten, with an ability to control the game with a fairly educated boot.

While I’m not saying Steyn’s a poor player, he perhaps doesn’t have the same degree of flair and attacking ability Hernandez has.

The Pumas always boast a solid pack of forwards, a steady scrum and are effective maulers.

What makes the famed Bajada scrum so effective is the breathing mechanism they employ. Everything is spearheaded towards the hooker, and they have been enormously successful with the techniques they have adopted.

I’m not surprised to see Argentina have selected a former prop in Eusebio Guinazu at hooker. Former Pumas great Federico Mendez started his career as a prop, and then shifted to hooker. It’s clear they favour a big, physical bruiser in the hooking position.

That said, the Bok forward pack is more than imposing in their own right. The front five, fronted by an all-Sharks front row is outstanding. Andries Bekker will make a big impact on his return to the side for the first time since 2010.

20-year-old Eben Etzebeth compliments Bekker, and forms a solid combination. He may still be young, but already strikes a fine balance between his role as the enforcer and athletic lock.

Pierre Spies’ tournament-ending injury has opened the door to the talented Keegan Daniel.

With a bruising pack in front of him, I feel Daniel will be afforded the opportunity to play his natural game and be free to roam  the field. He is a highly skilful player with great vision.

While some may regard him as too small for Test rugby, I expect him to do very well this weekend.

Willem Alberts adds real steel to the Bok pack, and will in tandem with Marcell Coetzee cause the Pumas a real headache. The collisions will certainly be no place for the faint-hearted.

However, I believe the Boks will edge the physical stakes as far as the points of collision are concerned.

Similarly, in the backline, Frans Steyn’s presence at inside centre will get the Boks over the advantage line and generate momentum for them to play off.

I expect the Boks to play to their traditional style: Gain territorial ascendancy, secure possession, generate momentum and then earn the right to go wide.

The Springboks fundamentally play a territory game and I think Morne Steyn is very much part and parcel of that. The Boks will certainly aim to play in Argentina’s half and once they do, will be intent on keeping possession. I expect the Boks to edge both territory and possession.

It’s quite a daunting task for Argentina to play South Africa away in their opening fixture, but they will certainly be up for the game, which will be competitive, combative and highly physical. That said, I’m predicting the Boks to win by no less than 15 points.

Casting an eye to the Wallabies clash with the All Blacks, despite home ground advantage, I expect the All Blacks to have too much muscle in the forwards.

In the backs, the injury to Conrad Smith is a big loss for the All Blacks, as the influence he exerts at outside centre is quite unbelievable. However, Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams are certainly a highly physical, mean-looking centre pairing.

Expect the All Blacks to win the game, but by no more than 10 points.

Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.

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