Rugby Championship
What do Springboks and Pumas bring Down Under?
Richard Kelly
September 3, 2014
South Africa were relieved more than anything to beat Argentina twice © Getty Images

Australia and New Zealand fans who witnessed the tense draw in Sydney followed by the Auckland massacre across two Bledisloe Cup Tests, you can be forgiven for forgetting there are two other nations also slogging it out in the Rugby Championship. Introducing South Africa and Argentina …

The Springboks and Pumas faced off in two tight clashes in different continents in rounds one and two, with the 2007 Rugby World Cup champions prevailing in both. But Argentina delivered a stiff challenge in both games are, now in their third season of Rugby Championship action, they will be hopeful this is the year they notch their first victory in the tournament. Against New Zealand in Napier … ?

We take a look at the two sides' performances in Pretoria and Salta, and pick out the key players who can hurt the Wallabies and All Blacks.

South Africa - Strengths

Argentina's Pablo Matera runs the ball, South Africa v Argentina, Rugby Championship, Pretoria, August 16, 2014
South Africa have been brilliant without the ball © Getty Images

Sharp goal-kicking: The Springboks probably would have lost in South America if they did not boast a goal-kicker in top form. Handre Pollard, 20, has slotted six from six so far, while Morne Steyn has kicked all four of his shots at goal. Both men have also kicked a goal from over 45 metres from the sticks, proving their threat from long range.

Confidence without the ball: The Boks surrendered possession and relied on their ability to soak up pressure and counter against the Pumas, a tactic often employed by the All Blacks in recent years. Their average of 13 min 39 sec in possession and 72 carries per game is way below the tournament average.

Marksman lineout: South Africa have had more lineout throws than any other side, but they have also managed the best success rate. In Bismarck Du Plessis (16/18 successful throws) and Adriaan Strauss (11/12) they boast two of the best hookers in the game.

South Africa - Weaknesses

Defence: The tight game on home territory was blamed on weather conditions, but it was hard to argue against the fact that the Pumas were hard done by in their second meeting. Three tries conceded in round two, coupled with the joint-highest number of missed tackles in two matches combined (31) is an area the Boks must correct when they face the Wallabies and All Blacks.

Scrum struggles: The Pumas caused all sorts of problems at the set-piece, and South Africa's scrum success rate (69%) is the lowest in the competition.

Argentina - Strengths

Argentina's Manuel Montero tries to make a break, Argentina v South Africa, Rugby Championship, Salta, August 23, 2014
Argentina have struggled to make maximum use of possession © Getty Images

Boisterous attack: Three tries against the Boks last week coupled with the joint-highest number of defenders beaten (31) and second-most clean breaks (12) in the tournament suggest this new-look Pumas outfit can not only compete but also punch holes in opposition defences.

Discipline in check: They have conceded just 19 penalties and free-kicks, a joint-low for the tournament.

Ball retention: The Pumas have the best ruck / maul success rate (96%) after two matches, despite making the second-most carries. That said, they have produced a high number of turnovers (32); this must improve if they are to compete in Oceania.

Argentina - Weaknesses

Goal kicking: While the Boks kicked at 100% in their first two games, Argentina landed just 64% of their shots and missed four place kicks. Even the best sides cannot afford to kick at such a low success rate against the other big boys of the Southern Hemisphere.

Ineffectual defence: With regards to volume of work in their first two outings, Argentina had little to do and attempted fewer tackles than any other side. But their tackling success rate was the lowest of the opening two rounds (84%) and they also managed fewer turnovers won than any other side. Despite commanding control of the ball, they leaked four tries.

Gainline struggles: Only Australia (2.9 metres) have averaged a lower average gain per carry than the Pumas (3.1m), but this number is perhaps skewed further as Argentina have made eight more breaks than the Wallabies. Taking those big carries away shows Argentina have found trouble in crossing the gainline when there is no broken field.

Ruan Pienaar is back in top form for South Africa © Getty Images

The leading lights

For South Africa, the re-emergence of Ruan Pienaar at scrum-half is very much welcomed. The Ulster Rugby No.9 has scored and assisted a try in 139 minutes of action, making two breaks and 70 metres from his 11 carries. He is yet to miss a tackle and has produced the second-most in play kicks so far (23). He has a strong place-kicking game as well and provides a reliable back-up for the Boks.

Willie Le Roux is the only player to kick the ball more often than Pienaar (24), but 24 carries for a gain of 189 metres shows his potency when returning the ball from deep. Le Roux has made the joint-most offloads (4) in the tournament, and his array of skills make him an unpredictable player for opposition defences to counter.

Argentina's Juan Manuel Leguizamon is a genuine all-action player, ranking among the top 10 tacklers (16) and the top three carriers (23). He ranks equal-third for offloads (3) and has also chipped in with a turnover.

Also grabbing the headlines for the Pumas are Le Roux's counterpart, Joaquin Tuculet, and fly-half Nicolas Sanchez, who rank second and equal third for defenders beaten (7 and 6 respectively). Sanchez, who rose to stardom through his unusually busy defensive exploits last season is also a keen offloader (3). Tuculet (148) and Sanchez (109) are two of the five players to gain 100+ metres in this tournament.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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