Jean: Pumas Tests are crucial

Jean de Villiers says the first two Tests against Argentina will be the Springboks’ most important with regards to building some early momentum in the Rugby Championship.

The Boks will play Argentina in Cape Town on 18 August before facing the Pumas in Mendoza on 25 August. They’re the easiest fixtures when one considers that the Boks have never lost to Argentina, and that the other two teams in the tournament, Australia and New Zealand, have enjoyed a good record against South Africa in recent times.

But on Wednesday, the Bok captain said that Argentina won’t be easy-beats, and that the first two matches of the campaign are vitally important for reasons beyond results.

‘It [complacency] is a trap we won’t fall into,’ said De Villiers. ‘These two games are the most important in the tournament. Argentina will be psyched up given it’s their first appearance, they will be throwing everything they have at us.

‘For us, it’s important to build on what we achieved in that England series. We were disappointed with the way we ended the series [with a draw in Port Elizabeth]. We have to look at the positives of that series and bring it all together in one 80-minute performance.

‘We see it as a big positive to play against Argentina, and we’re not looking past that.’

The majority of the squad got together on Sunday, while the Sharks’ Boks, who competed in the Super Rugby final in Hamilton, have now joined the team in Cape Town.

The Boks will enjoy two weeks of preparation ahead of that first Test against Argentina, a marked difference to the build up to the England series where they were only afforded a few days together before the first Test.

‘There’s a different mindset knowing you don’t have another tournament to go back to,’ said De Villiers. ‘We played against England knowing we would have to go back to the Super 15. But now all of our focus is on this tournament [the Rugby Championship]. It must also be a positive that we have a whole extra week to prepare compared to that England series.’

The Bok captain defended the game plan, and believes it could bring them success in the coming months. He did concede that the team would need to be more accurate in their implementation of this playing pattern.

‘We didn’t have much time for preparation ahead of that England series, so we stuck to a simple game plan. In saying that, we scored two great tries on the counterattack in the second half of that first Test, and we’ve not seen that side of Bok rugby for awhile.

‘The rugby we played in first half of the second Test was outstanding. There are areas that we can improve but there are also good signs. Hopefully we can evolve, but the more rugby changes the more it stays the same. It’s about getting into the right areas and taking your opportunities.’

De Villiers also defended flyhalf Morné Steyn, who along with the Bok game plan came in for some strong criticism after the third Test against England.

The skipper feels that Steyn is the right man for the Boks and that the only area in Steyn’s game that is below par is his goal-kicking.

‘I tend to disagree with that perception [that Steyn is in a bad space mentally]. His general play in that England series was very good, it was only his kicking at goal that let him down a bit.

‘We’re so used to him kicking at 90 percent, so when he doesn’t there is some concern. But his decision making on attack has been good, and he’s varied his play well.

‘He’s in a good place mentally, and hopefully he can sort out the kicking. We are not too concerned.’

By Jon Cardinelli, in Cape Town