The Springboks face Argentina in the final round of the Rugby Championship this weekend, looking for their first win of the tournament.
Two losses in two games for South Africa has left them needing a sizeable win over Argentina to save any face from their Rugby Championship campaign. The irony is that the Springboks have played some lovely rugby at times, with Damien de Allende and Jesse Kriel forming an electric centre partnership. For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to close out both games that they have lead in swathes.
Frustratingly for fans, that centre partnership – their great success story so far – has been disrupted this weekend. But when you consider that it is because the warrior that is Jean de Villiers is making his return after that horrific knee injury, it is understandable. Still, with Kriel shifted out to the wing to accommodate de Villiers, the returning captain will need to shake off the rust quickly and put in a good performance if he is to confirm himself as a starter ahead of the World Cup.
The losses to Australia and New Zealand will have sprinkled the seeds of doubt in the team, and Argentina will aim to take a watering can to them by dragging the Boks into an arm wrestle. Very little of what the Pumas have done so far this championship has been pretty, and while that has largely been their MO over the years, it has been far from effective in the past few weeks. Juan Martin Hernandez has the maverick streak that could be the antidote; he is installed at fly-half in place of the more pragmatic Nicolas Sanchez.
Upfront there is a baptism of fire for Stormers tighthead Vincent Koch, whose first test start comes opposite one of the best loosies in the game, Marcos Ayerza. The grizzled Argentinian knows all the tricks in the book and despite some criticism of the legality of his scrummaging recently, he seems to be getting away with it.
De Villiers is the story, but a poor performance from the Springboks – or even, heaven forbid, a loss – would make fans quickly forget about the return of their talismanic captain, and start worrying about their form so close to the World Cup. More likely, though, is that they’ll continue in their impressive vein and put a stuttering Pumas outfit comfortably to bed.