South African Rugby

Friday, November 04, 2005

Argentina keen to dish out some pain

Argentina, the country cousins of world rugby, are desperate to get a look in at one of the major money spinning competitions around the world. Their season is fragmented and most of their players (as many as 24 of the initial 28-man squad for this Test) ply their trade in Europe.

There is seldom talk of them having an extended run as a squad, except for the November window period when the International Rugby Board (IRB) forces clubs to release their players. Their mid-year programme consisted of just two Tests, against Italy, and a rare one-off encounter with the British and Irish Lions.

The Pumas only started preparing for the Test on Tuesday, because their players were still playing club rugby in Europe at the weekend and only arrived back home on Monday.

The South Africans, currently ranked No.2 in the world, had an extended three-month run in June, July and August - Tests against Uruguay, France (two), Australia (four) and New Zealand (two).

And they have been in training (first back in South African and since the weekend in Buenos Aires) for about two weeks.

You don't need to be a 'rocket scientist' the realise the one team will be favourites under these circumstances.

But the Argentineans plan to "gatecrash" the big boys' party. They know that the only way for them to be taken serious and get more regular internationals (a look in at competitions like the Tri-Nations or Six-Nations) would be if they can beat the big guns ... like South Africa.

This is a fact that was acknowledged by Bok coach Jake White this week, when he said that the Pumas will come at his team all guns blazing. He even admitted to being "nervous" - partly because of the fact that the Argentineans pose a serious threat and partly because his team did not live up to expectations on the 2004 year-end tour.

It is that great unknown, the fact that the opposition is targeting you, that makes coaches like White weary ... and he should be.

This Puma side is a far cry from the second-rate selection that the Boks faced in Buenos Aires last year.

And the Bok coach made it clear that this time round the game is approached in the same light as he would for a Test against any of the major countries, like New Zealand, Australia, England or France.

"We don't view this as a warm-up for the European [leg of our] tour," White said.

Bok captain John Smit, who will lead the team onto the field in his 49th Test, echoed similar sentiments and warned that a half-hearted performance will not be good enough against the Pumas.

"Their forwards showed against the British Lions earlier this year how effective their rolling mauls and drives are. If we want to stop that, we won't just have to be well prepared, but our commitment must also be top notch," Smit said.

Smit is spot on with his comment.

The Pumas like it rough and tough and the Boks will have to place a high premium on their physical game in contact situations. They will simply have to dominate up front.

The Argentineans this week kept talking up the South Africans' physical abilities and the fact that the Boks are such a tough bunch. They are clearly preparing for a very brutal encounter.

"We know that the South Africans are faster and stronger, therefore I believe that it will be vital for us to try to surprise them on attack," fly-half Felipe Contepomi said.

"They are a team that play a very physical game in the contact situations. We will have to be more aggressive than they, to be able to prevail."

Contepomi, who plays for the Irish province Leinster, refused to use the lack of preparation time as an excuse.

"This is our opportunity to be measured against one of the top teams in the world. If we can match them on the day, it will be a huge bonus for the Pumas."

Fullback Juan Martin Hernández, who plays his club rugby for Stade Francais, also spoke about the physical threat posed by the Boks and the need to match in that aspect.

"South Africa is a very hard team, that plays with a lot of physical severity, but they are not invincible," Hernández said.

"We are going to put them under on defence and try and turn over the ball at the point of breakdown."

Players to watch:

For Argentina: Scrum-half Agustín Pichot is not just the crucial link between forwards and backs, but he is also the captain. He makes all the crucial decisions and the team's prospects depends on his ability to stay calm under pressure ... which he always do.

For South Africa: Fly-half André Pretorius will need to bring his A-Game to the park. The Springbok forwards will face one of their most physical tests of the year and it will be vital for Pretorius to get his pack going forward, keep the Pumas pinned deep in their own territory and thus limit the risk of those much vaunted mauls.

Head-to-head: Omar Hasan, Mario Ledesma and Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina) versus CJ van der Linde, John Smit and Os du Randt (South Africa). This is one for the front row connoisseurs. Six big brutes going head-to-head in the heat of Buenos Aires. It just so happens this is one of the most crucial aspects of the Pumas' game, where they drain the opposition's energy with their much vaunted 'Bajada' scrum.

Prediction: It is probably going to be much closer than what most Springbok fans would like it to be. South Africa will hold on for a hard-earned win, by less than 10 points. prediction: South Africa by six points.

Previous results:
2004: SA won 39-7 in Buenos Aires
2003: SA won 26-25 in Port Elizabeth
2002: SA won 49-29 in Springs
2000: SA won 37-33 in Buenos Aires
1996: SA won 44-21 in Buenos Aires
1996: SA won 46-15 in Buenos Aires
1994: SA won 46-26 in Johannesburg
1994: SA won 42-22in Port Elizabeth
1993: SA won 52-23 in Buenos Aires
1993: SA won 29-26in Buenos Aires

The teams:

Pumas: 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 Lucas Borges, 13 Federico Martín Aramburu, 12 Manuel Contepomi, 11 Francisco Leonelli, 10 Felipe Contepomi, 9 Agustín Pichot (captain), 8 Gonzalo Longo, 7 Agustín Durand, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 5 Pablo Bouza, 4 Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, 3 Omar Hasan, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guiñazú, 17 Martín Scelzo, 18 Manuel Carizza, 19 Martín Schusterman, 20 Nicolás Fernández Miranda, 21 Federico Todeschini, 22 Bernardo Stortoni.

South Africa: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Conrad Jantjes, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 André Pretorius, 9 Bolla Conradie, 8 Jacques Cronjé, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Solly Tyibilika, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 CJ van der Linde, 2 John Smit (captain), 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Hanyani Shimange, 17 Eddie Andrews, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Schalk Burger, 20 Michael Claassens, 21 De Wet Barry, 22 Brent Russell.

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