South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer expects Argentina to live up to their reputation as fearsome scrummagers when the Pumas make their long-awaited debut in the expanded Rugby Championship in Cape Town today.
Argentina have never beaten the Springboks and face a baptism of fire at Newlands as they join the southern hemisphere’s elite competition after years of lobbying.
“We know that Argentina is going to have a very strong scrum. We know that they are going to take us on up front and we need to be at our best,” Meyer said of their opening Rugby Championship clash.
“The scrum is usually the first physical confrontation in a game and we are two countries that pride themselves on being great scrummaging countries,” he said.
South Africa’s game-plan will also be based around their powerful forward pack, but Meyer is banking on under-fire flyhalf Morne Steyn to find his best form.
Steyn, usually a deadly accurate goal-kicker, succeeded with just 12 out of 20 attempts at goal during the Springboks’ three-Test series against England in June.
“Morne understands that when you play flyhalf for South Africa there is expectation and there is pressure, and he knows that when you don’t perform to the expectation there is criticism,” Meyer said.
“I don’t know any player who can take criticism better than Morne can, but I think the criticism will motivate him to produce good rugby and I have a lot of confidence in him,” he added.
South Africa make six changes to the team who drew 14-14 with England in the third Test in June, with No. 8 Keegan Daniel coming in for his first Test start after replacing the injured Pierre Spies.
Argentina wing Gonzalo Camacho recognized that the Pumas had reached a watershed moment.
“We have been feeling the pressure and climate of heading into a huge game, the Test will be huge,” Camacho said.
“It is historical because South Africa is a world [rugby] power, an elite side, and because it is a tournament that we have to prove ourselves in,” he added.
Argentina flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez is to make his first Test appearance in three years, having suffered a string of injuries since helping his country finish third at the 2007 World Cup.
The starting team, captained by No. 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, includes 14 players who play in Europe, with only flanker Julio Farias Cabello playing in Argentina.
Very few pundits are giving Argentina a chance of upsetting the Springboks at Newlands, but Pumas coach Santiago Phelan is confident that his charges will acquit themselves well.
“We always go onto the field with the intention of winning for Argentina. Other people’s expectations do not matter to me. We as a team will always give 100 percent to produce our best effort and attempt to get the best result,” he said.
One thing that could work in Argentina’s favor is the similarity of today’s two protagonists’ game-plans.
Like Meyer, Phelan expects a titanic struggle for forward domination.
“South Africa play a very physical game and it is always difficult for teams who play against them. They have the players to play a very dynamic game. that’s why I say they are a complete team, with excellent players,” Phelan said.