CRAIG LEWIS looks ahead to a crucial away game in the Springboks’ Rugby Championship campaign.
On Monday morning, the Boks quietly slipped out of Durban and began their journey to Argentina, where they will face a rematch against the Pumas in Mendoza this Saturday.
Ever since Argentina joined the Rugby Championship, the Boks have experienced their fair share of struggles in South America. In 2012, the Springboks had to settle for a 16-16 draw, while they scrapped their way to unconvincing victories in the three subsequent away matches.
In 2016, the Boks suffered a shock 26-24 defeat in Salta, while last year they had to rely on a second-half surge to finally claim a relatively comfortable 41-23 victory against their hosts.
Fast forward to this Saturday, and the Boks best be prepared for another hostile reception at the intimate Estadio Malvinas in Mendoza, where raucous fans are situated close to the field from the low, wide stands. Many are also often equipped with an instrument known as a ‘trumpeta’, essentially the local equivalent of a vuvuzela.
It’s an uncomfortable environment for any travelling team, while the Boks can expect Argentina to attempt to slow the game down and effectively turn it into a scrappy dog-fight.
This is the acid test that the Springboks will face, and it’s especially set to provide further insight into the true mettle of this side under Rassie Erasmus.
Although the Boks did kick off the Test season with an away game against Wales in Washington, that was essentially a ‘festival’ game that featured two significantly weakened teams.
In many respects, this is the first real examination of the Boks away from home this year, and it’s a clash that they simply cannot afford to lose if they hope to have any real say in competing for the title this season.
After this encounter, the Boks will travel to Australasia for challenging clashes against the Wallabies and All Blacks, and they will be desperate to do so with two wins already under the belt.
Increasingly, the time for experimentation is running out. Erasmus has been bold in his selections over the first few Tests of the year, but one senses he will want to settle on his first-choice combinations by the time the team arrives in Australia.
The importance placed on Saturday’s clash has been reflected in Erasmus’ decision to make just the solitary change to the starting lineup from last weekend, which sees first-choice lock Franco Mostert reclaim the No 5 jersey from Pieter-Steph du Toit.
A key factor for the Boks this Saturday will be to ensure that they clean out with accuracy and intent at the breakdowns, while rectifying the goal-kicking and lineout woes of last Saturday.
Ultimately, the Springboks should have the superior physicality and ascendancy up front to lay the foundation for a crucial win away from home.
Stats and facts
o The Springboks have won all but three of their previous 27 games against the Pumas (drawn one, lost two), including their last three on the bounce and a come-from-behind win in round one of this tournament.
o Four of the last six games between the Pumas and Springboks in Argentina have been decided by a margin of five points or fewer. However, South Africa’s 41-23 win in their last game in Argentina was their biggest against the Pumas there since 2004 (39-7).
o Argentina have led at half-time in each of their two previous games against South Africa at Estadio Mundialista Malvinas, although they’ve gone on to earn just a draw from those games (lost one).
o The Pumas have lost their last six games on the bounce in Argentina, conceding fewer than 30 points on only one occasion in that span.
o South Africa have won only three of their last 13 games as the away team on the day (drawn one, lost nine), despite leading at half-time on five occasions in that time.
o The Springboks have scored just 10 tries in their last five games away from home, failing to cross the whitewash twice in that time.
o Aphiwe Dyantyi bagged a brace of tries in the opening round of the Rugby Championship, and has now scored three tries in his four Test appearances.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse.
Argentina – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertanou, 8 Javier Ortego Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Augustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Facunda Bosch, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia.
Photo: Anton Geyser/Gallo Images