The Malvinas Argentinas Stadium in Mendoza, Argentina, will play host to Los Pumas’ first ever home game as part of the expanded ‘Tri-Nations’ this weekend, when they face the Springboks in the return league of their Championship clash.
Having been outclassed in Cape Town last week, losing 27-6, the Argentinians will be hoping that a passionate home crowd can spur them on to something special. While the loss of fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez is a blow, coach Santiago Phelan has avoided making changes wherever possible, recognising the importance of creating combinations of players and exposing them to as much game time as possible at the highest level.
Morne Steyn’s new Nike Tiempo boots were doing their job in match one, the star first-five coming back to form after a performance well below his own high standards in his last outing for the Bulls in the Super XV. He will need to be on target again this weekend, as the battle is sure to be a tight one, at least for the first 60 minutes, and every point will be an important one.
The Springboks will be without Bismarck Du Plessis, who succumbed to a leg injury which will keep him out of the rest of the competition. Du Plessis is an inspirational player, and his loss will be felt, not only in the set-pieces, but also around the park, where he acts very much as a fourth loose-forward.
In the loose, Jacques Potgieter takes over at blindside flanker, with Willem Alberts moving to No. 8 and Keegan Daniel shifting to the bench. The changes to the ‘Boks side are a result of effective contesting at the breakdown by Los Pumas, who managed to steal more ball from their much vaunted opponents than should have been allowed. South African media criticised the ‘Boks’ ball security after Saturday’s match, and coach Heyneke Meyer will undoubtedly be looking for the robust Potgieter to contribute in this area.
It’s a game that the Springboks should win, but they will have to assert their dominance from the outset. It will be a boisterous atmosphere in Mendoza, and if the visitors let their hosts get a sniff of an historic victory they could well get up on the back of a parochial home crowd. But, again, the ‘Boks should be too strong, and I’m picking a 12 point win for South Africa.