Rugby Union

South Africa vs Argentina: Four talking points ahead of World Cup warm-up in Pretoria

Talking points as the newly-crowned Rugby Championship winners South Africa host Argentina at Loftus Versfeld, live on Sky Sports.

These two sides met last week in Salta, with the Springboks running out 46-13 winners to claim their first southern hemisphere title since 2009.

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What can we expect from these two teams in the return fixture in Pretoria?

Resurgent Boks

South Africa are not yet back to their best, but they are far nearer that mark than they were two years ago when they were beaten 57-0 by New Zealand in Albany.

Rassie Erasmus has restored some pride in the team, and they play with far more direction than we have seen from them in recent years.

Not only have they won the Rugby Championship but against their old rivals the All Blacks they have won one game 36-34, lost one 32-30 and drew 16-16 last month. Under Erasmus, it’s honours even between the Boks and New Zealand.

There is an intensity to the way they defend, and rather than squeezing past teams by kicking penalties, they are scoring plenty of tries. Though there are a few teams ahead of them in the World Rugby rankings, and they are far from favourites for the World Cup later this year, they are back to being solid contenders.

Erasmus will be aware that the belief that has been built in recent times would be under threat if they were to lose to Argentina at home, and will therefore be firing up his troops ahead of kick-off.

Pumas’ scrum

One of the most alarming aspects of Argentina’s loss to South Africa last week was the manner in which their scrum was dismantled.

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Normally one of their strengths, they were consistently shoved around by a Bok pack led by a re-energised Tendai Mtawarira and the rock-solid Trevor Nyakane.

Stuart Barnes wrote in Monday’s column that the traditionally-immovable Argentine set piece is now something other teams will target at the World Cup, and could potentially cost them a place in the quarter-finals if not addressed.

“England have to qualify themselves, but the desperate state of the Argentina scrum suggests they have a clear route to success against the Pumas,” said Barnes.

“The South Americans look the lesser of the pool-stage threats, with France utterly unpredictable.”

With time running out for the Pumas to fix the technical aspects of their scrummaging, they will certainly be looking to bite back against the southern hemisphere champions this weekend.

How big a loss will De Bruin prove?

Springboks attack consultant Swys de Bruin has stepped down, leaving head coach Rassie Erasmus to find a replacement to take with him to Japan.

De Bruin, the head coach of Super Rugby side Lions, asked to be released from his role for personal and health issues, South African Rugby said in a statement on Wednesday.

“Swys made a great contribution to the squad in his time with us and I’d like to thank him on behalf of his fellow management and the players he has worked with in the past 12 months,” Erasmus said.

“He brought a fresh perspective to one facet of the game and he’ll be hard to replace.”

De Bruin was not with the team since they drew 16-16 with New Zealand in Wellington last month. He played no part in their final Rugby Championship match against Argentina in Salta.

The 59-year-old de Bruin had issues earlier this year with stress-related illness that forced him to leave the Lions on their tour of New Zealand and temporarily hand over the head coaching duties.

Erasmus said de Bruin’s decision had taken him by surprise, but it would not affect their final preparations for the World Cup, with their opener against the All Blacks on September 22 in Yokohama.

De Bruin had previously said it was his dream to go to the World Cup and coach with the Springboks there, so it is not a decision he would have taken lightly.

Five weeks out before the World Cup, it will be interesting to see which direction South Africa now take with their attacking coaching, especially if they start to encounter problems.

“This was not something we were expecting,” Erasmus added. “But our planning has been thorough and it’s something we can manage.”

Pumped Pumas seek backlash

Handre Pollard’s power and direct play was too much for the Pumas to handle last weekend as he helped himself to 31 points including two tries – but Argentina now need a performance if they are to head to Japan with confidence restored.

Mario Ledesma was tasked with reviving the side 14 months out from the World Cup in June 2018 – but after the former national-team hooker’s initial bounce of beating Australia and South Africa during last summer’s Rugby Championship, it is now nine defeats in a row.

Marcos Cremer and Pablo Matera set the standard with some thunderous hits in defence while they will take heart from a fluid and functioning maul in Salta.

Springbok assistant coach Mattt Proudfoot said ahead of the Test at Loftus Versfeld: “If I was their coach, I would be pressing their buttons this week. They’ll be hurting and this is their last test match before the World Cup. This is going to be very important to them.”

Remarkably, no team to have lifted the Tri-Nations trophy or Rugby Championship title has gone on to win the World Cup in the same calendar year.

Now as southern hemisphere champions, the Springboks must adapt to being the team everyone wants to beat – starting in Pretoria this weekend.

Team news

South Africa: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach; 1 Thomas du Toit, 2 Schalk Brits (c), 3 Vincent Koch, 4 RG Snyman, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 8 Marcell Coetzee.

Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn.

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