Argentina: Tricky, but a Dream Start

With all due respect to Argentina, and all due disrespect to the name of the tournament, surely playing the Pumas twice is a dream start to the Rugby Championship?

South Africa’s first match is against the tournament’s new boys at home, and then they fly westwards to play them away. If any of the ‘big three’ could hand-pick their fixtures, surely that is the ideal starting procedure for the players to adjust from playing Super Rugby to the Quad Nations (that doesn’t sound so bad, does it SANZAR?).

In no way should the Pumas be underestimated. These are still tricky games for the Springboks, of course. Argentina are a team of prepared and seasoned internationals, most of whom play for big teams in Europe. Anyone who thinks that this side will get too wide-eyed at our standard of play and just become a scattered mess interspersed with shouts of “Ay Karamba!” is someone whose attitude belongs in the 1950s.

If you are unfamiliar with their team, some Argentinean players are really going to capture your affection in the next couple of months. Their production rate of classy players is certainly on the up, even if it’s not up to the standard of the tournament’s other participants. They are on the cusp of regularly creating rugby heroes like Agustin Pichot, Federico Mendez and Hugo Porta (tip: if you are ever in a pub quiz and there is a question about the South American Jaguars, the answer is Hugo Porta).

Keep an eye out for captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe at eighth man, a player who’s almost as imposing as his name. Sharks fans will remember fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, and would have seen glimpses as to why he’s nicknamed El Magico. If exciting runners is your thing, look no further than full-back Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino. He runs with wonderful balance and an endearing ‘bobblehead’ technique, and he’s a national hero for keeping his team in the World Cup last year on a rainy day in Wellington with this ridiculously good last-gasp try.

It wouldn’t be a preview of a Puma game without giving special mention to at least one front row forward, and focus goes to veteran prop Rodrigo Roncero. He’ll be playing his 50th test match, and he’ll certainly be pumped to celebrate this on one of Argentinian rugby’s most historic occasions. He’ll be a major catalyst for Argentina’s much-famed Bajada scrum technique (if you’re looking for drinking game phrases to listen out for on Saturday to accompany “don’t underestimate” and “clubs in France”, then “Bajada scrum technique” is a goodie).

Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer is certainly not underestimating them. He’s continued with his much-publicised mantra of making sure the team goes out to win every game, and has picked a team that is the strongest according to him.

This mission of Meyer’s should, of course, not invite overreaction. Odds are that he will experience the odd loss in this tournament, and if the Springboks do lose the odd game, it must be analysed beyond the mere result. The Springboks are in a big rebuilding phase that mustn’t be ignored.

He hasn’t got the luxury of calling on as much experience as some of his predecessors. The lock position, with the loss of Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and even Danie Rossouw, is the obvious area where experience has been given a quadrennial post-world cup drain, but it isn’t the only area in the team that is severely lacking in test caps.

The Springbok loose-forward trio, for instance, with a combined total of 17 caps, is the most inexperienced one put out in a test match since 2004. Remarkable when you take into account that this is regarded as the best available combination he can call upon (unlike the aforementioned match, coincidentally against Argentina, that involved giving fringe players game time).

Nevertheless, the two-time world champions are the favourites (which is a phrase one can use for every Argentina fixture in this tournament).

Meyer should be applauded for emphasising the desire to constantly build on a winning culture even if it heaps more pressure on himself, as opposed to vaguely referring to 4-year world cup plans to use as a get out of jail free card in case of defeat. This means that victory against Argentina has become a non-negotiable (if it wasn’t already).

This also applies to the next game in Argentina, which brings a welcome change the usual jet lag problems that South African teams experience in SANZAR tournaments. When on tour, South Africans have flown eastwards to their destination in the past (to Australia and New Zealand), thus losing time as they travel through the time zones. As the world of the jet-set all know, it’s far easier to deal with jet lag issues when you fly westwards and gain time (I would explain to you how it works, but I find it boring don’t have the time).

History is overwhelmingly on the Springbok side. The two teams have played 13 times and South Africa have won every time. They haven’t always been comfortable victories. One home encounter in the Straueli era was mighty close (which was a game where the man of the match wasn’t the only South African to say “ek wil net die Here dank“).

Inevitably, be it this year or sometime soon, Argentina will start winning games in the Rugby Championship. They will use the competition as an exciting stepping stone to become a much bigger force in the sport. SANZAR have picked a valuable addition to the old Tri-Nations in order to make more money grow the game.

While it’s inevitable that Argentina will start winning eventually, the Springboks must make sure it doesn’t start against them.

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About the Author

Simply Sean lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and is a sports fanatic that flirts with the line between well-informed and unhealthily obsessed. He follows his beloved Stormers, Springboks, Proteas and Wolverhampton Wanderers with unbridled passion. Friends of his love to be near him in times of victory, and know to stand well back in times of defeat. Whether his teams win or lose, a penny for his thoughts remains a sound investment, That is, quite simply, Sean. Find his other ramblings here: www.simplysean.co.za