Cape Town - Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus is expected to play close to his strongest form side as the team touches down in Buenos Aires ahead of their bid for this year’s Rugby Championship title.
But with Erasmus’ team having their best chance in a decade to claim the Rugby Championship title, all indications are that he will select his strongest form side for the clash, and leave the experimentation to Loftus Versfeld next week when the sides meet again in a friendly encounter.
This means the hopes of scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and flank Marcell Coetzee finding some game time are probably not going to be realised before Loftus.
The same goes for loose forward Marco van Staden and utility back Dillyn Leyds, both playing Currie Cup at the moment, but both will probably feature in the Loftus clash in some capacity, in order to give them a shot at impressing the coach.
But back to Salta and the mission the Boks are on this week.
In essence it couldn’t be clearer.
Win with a bonus point and secure the Championship outright, or win without a bonus point and look to points difference. Lose and watch it all slip away.
Erasmus’ hopes of a momentum and confidence boost before the World Cup couldn’t be better aided than a Rugby Championship victory, even though history has told us that this certainly isn’t a good guide for World Cup form.
But for a Bok side that has struggled over the past few years, the renewed interest and good feeling surrounding the team is translated into confidence and with a target now to aim for, they certainly won’t lack motivation in Salta this weekend.
The venue is still an uncharacteristically difficult one for the Boks in recent times, and refereeing interpretations under pressure from the home crowd will be just one factor the Boks will need to get over. The other is that South African teams have struggled to find their rhythm in Argentina, with just the Lions winning in the last two seasons there in Super Rugby. Hardly a record that will give confidence.
All that may mean nothing though as the Boks know they can claim the title with a bonus point victory, and that may be enough to spur them on.
While Erasmus sits with a number of selection posers this weekend, he is set to retain confidence in the match-day 23 that held the All Blacks to a draw in Wellington, bringing in continuity and form into his decision-making.
And while there might be calls for Herschel Jantjies to claim a starting spot, the more likely scenario is that he will continue to play off the bench with Faf de Klerk the likely starting No 9.
It also means that the backline is bound to stay the same, with Frans Steyn also staying on the bench for now as he eases back into Test rugby.
The only real decision for Erasmus it seems is the front row, where both Trevor Nyakane and Beast Mtawarira have made strong bids for starting places in the side with their performances in the Rugby Championship thus far.
Both were strong in the win over Australia in Johannesburg and provided the spark for the set piece in Wellington when it seemed the All Black scrum got the upper hand. And both are likely to be rewarded for their form with a start on Saturday as Erasmus looks to target the Puma scrum in the process.
Given the way the Argentinean scrum struggled against the Wallabies in Brisbane, to target their set piece is a no-brainer. Scott Sio, who a week earlier struggled against Nyakane in Johannesburg, looked exceptional against the Puma scrum and gave the Wallabies a clear ascendancy there.
That will obviously have been picked up by the Bok coaching staff, as well as the way the Puma lineout fell apart in the second half against the Wallabies. Both are key areas for the Boks where they can feel comfortable in their strength and will be targets for the game.
On the Boks own side, their inability to turn domination into points in Wellington will still be a worry, and it can be expected that Erasmus will look to take a more direct attack line in Salta in order to score the points to get the bonus point needed and the win.
But Mario Ledesma is no slouch and on both the forward weaknesses and the Boks struggles to score, a lot of work will have been put in by the home side to negate any advantage the Boks hope they will have.
Either way an interesting contest awaits, and one that could be made spicier by the fact that less than 12 hours earlier the All Blacks and Wallabies will have clashed for the Bledisloe Cup, leaving the Boks with a clear path to the title.
By the time they walk out to the hostile crowd in Salta, they will have a clear target in mind.
And a first Rugby Championship title in a decade certainly won’t need any extra motivation.
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