RYAN VREDE analyses the key match ups and picks the winner from the Test at Newlands this weekend.
The Pumas are a breath of fresh air to a competition that had become stale and uninspiring. They also benefit the Springboks in the sense that their involvement eliminates Australia and New Zealand’s travel advantage, which has been the point of much lamentation in the South African rugby fraternity. No more one-Test hit outs for the Wallabies and Blacks in the Republic. Now they will be tested in a manner they are unaccustomed to. This will make for fascinating viewing.
But while the Springboks will privately be thankful for the effect the Pumas’ inclusion will have, their appreciation and hospitality will be reserved for the after-match function. The Springboks will start their campaign with a comfortable victory. Certainly there are areas of their game that continue to be worrying, and we’ll discuss those shortly, but the Pumas don’t have the personnel or tactical intelligence to exploit those areas in a manner that would facilitate a victory.
Their scrum will be imposing but those who believe it will be so dominant that it will be decisive to the outcome are deluded. The Springboks have a world-class front row and their scrum stood up to stern examination against England, widely regarded to be one of the best scrummaging units in the game. Don’t underestimate the influence the Springboks’ scrum coach Pieter de Villiers will have on readying his forwards for this challenge. He is an astute coach whose influence has already been lauded by the coaching staff and players.
It is the only phase of play they may hold an advantage, with the lineouts being dominated by Andries Bekker and co. The Pumas will look to get their powerful maul rolling at every opportunity. Bekker’s reading of the defensive lineouts will be central to ensuring this doesn’t become a point of concern for his side. He needs to assert himself in a manner he hasn’t managed at any stage of his Test career. I have a gut feel he’ll do so, and take the confidence gained from there through the remainder of the tournament. The lineout is also crucial in the context of the Springboks’ attacking game plan. Don’t be surprised if the bulk of the tries they score are birthed from this set piece.
The gainline and breakdown will be hotly contested but bossed by the hosts. Defensively the Springboks are sound and should stifle the Pumas’ advances at the tackle point, making it difficult for them to execute their attacking strategy and nullify the influence of flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez. Furthermore, in Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Beast Mtawarira, Marcell Coetzee and Frans Steyn the Springboks have the strike runners on attack to generate the momentum they need to control the match and provide their halfback pair the space and time they need to execute the tactical kicks that will seek to gain favourable field positions.
Francois Hougaard’s kicking game will again come under intense scrutiny and the Pumas are sure to have analysed the manner in which England pressured him into errors in June. With Heyneke Meyer unconvinced about Hougaard’s ability to improve his tactical kicking to the required standard and leaning towards installing Ruan Pienaar, Hougaard needs a performance that will be rewarded with a stay of execution.
Morné Steyn’s situation is not as desperate but Meyer has noted his poor form of late. Meyer does, however, believe that an extended break for Steyn, his first in three years, will rejuvenate him. I hope he is right because a confident Steyn will be essential to their cause in this tournament.
Overall, the Springboks will lack a little synergy but will still be far too good for the Pumas. The margin will narrow in Mendoza next weekend, though.
VREDE’S CALL: Springboks by 18