Argentina eye upset on home soil
August 22, 2014
Handre Pollard loses the ball on the soaking Loftus pitch in Pretoria last weekend © Getty Images
South Africa might have emerged winners from the swamp-like Loftus field, but it was far from a straightforward victory for the home side in Pretoria last weekend. In fairness, the sodden conditions made good rugby almost impossible to play, but Argentina grafted hard and forced the Springboks to battle for their points. Saturday's return fixture in Salta is likely to be a much drier affair, but the Pumas will be eager to show they are closing the gap on their Rugby Championship rivals.
And the hosts have every chance of doing that. Since their debut in the competition, Argentina have hosted South Africa twice, playing out a 16-16 draw and a narrow 22-17 loss to the World's No.2 ranked side. Could this be a case of third time lucky for the Pumas? While a South African victory is still the most probable outcome, the visitors cannot afford to be complacent.
Argentina's Nicolas Sanchez coped better than most with the testing conditions in Pretoria last weekend. The fly-half made the most metres for the Pumas while beating more defenders than any man on either side at Loftus Versfeld stadium. With the veteran Juan Martin Hernandez due to slot into the inside centre role, the creative juices will certainly be flowing for the home side in Salta.
The Springboks' XV might boast experienced operators such as Jean de Villiers, Bryan Habana and Ruan Pienaar, but in the second row it is youth that rules the roost. Despite their tender years, Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager already look like a world-class partnership and South Africa will be confident they have finally found their heirs to Matfield and Botha.
Ruan Pienaar struggled in wet conditions last weekend © Getty Images
Key area to watch
The back-row will always be an important area when the Springboks are involved, particularly now they welcome the great Juan Smith back into the fray. But after last weekend's showing, a key battleground is likely to be the broader struggle between the Argentine attack versus the South African defence. Despite emerging losers in Pretoria, the visiting Pumas looked more willing in their offensive game than the Springboks, whose array of young attacking talent could only muster one try between them. Daniel Hourcade is gradually encouraging Argentina to shake off their legacy of brutal effectiveness, instead aiming for a more adventurous game, and South Africa will have to remain organised in defence to keep the Pumas out in Salta.
The stats from Pretoria tell a tale of an Argentina side who were prepared to give it a go: the Pumas beat 13 defenders to the Springboks' eight, made 84 carries to 69 and missed just eight tackles compared to 13 from the home side.
South Africa had a tougher time overcoming Argentina in Pretoria last weekend than many had predicted but, while the Pumas have a decent record against the Springboks on home soil, they are yet to register a win against tomorrow's opposition. It will be close, but South Africa should pinch it by seven.
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