South Africa vs. Argentina: Where the Game Will Be Won

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South Africa vs. Argentina: Where the Game Will Be Won
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In previewing Argentina's second season in the Rugby Championship, we know one thing for certain: Statistically, the chances of them winning their opening clash against South Africa on Saturday are very much against them.

The Pumas have never beaten the Springboks in 15 meetings and the odds are stacked against them improving that win-loss ratio when they meet at Soccer City in Soweto.

They may have held the Boks to a 16-16 draw the last time they met, but they were driven by the added passion from it being their home debut in the competition and South Africa will have learnt from that clash. 

Several factors are likely to decide the outcome of the game in Soweto. 

 

Breakdown Contest 

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Francois Louw

While the Pumas' back row is missing inspirational skipper and star player Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe through injury, the Boks have selected a trio which could serve them through to the World Cup in two years' time. 

Number eight Duane Vermeulen was arguably the Boks' star performer in last year's tournament and he is flanked by Francois Louw and the giant Willem Alberts.  

Crucial to the Pumas' chances will be preventing them securing quick ball for their talented backs and that is why the absence of Lobbe could hit them so hard. 

Pablo Matera moves flanks to cover Lobbe's place, and while replacement Juan Martin Leguizamon is an experienced operator there is no denying the Pumas will miss their skipper's exceptional defence.

Pumas hooker Eusebio Guinazu and wing Horacio Agulla also know Louw well from playing together for English club Bath and have identified him as a threat at the breakdown.

As Guinazu told SA Rugby Magazine

You just can't let him get over the ball, you can't give him a chance because he will punish you. 

We've just got to make sure that our ball-carriers stay on their feet for as long as possible, that they don't get isolated and Flo comes into play.

 

Jean De Villiers v Felipe Contepomi

In the absence of Fernandez Lobbe, Pumas great Felipe Contepomi takes over the skipper's armband and will be directly facing Boks captain Jean de Villiers in midfield. 

Both are hugely experienced and amongst the most capped players for their countries, with de Villiers on 87 and Contepomi on 81. 

But while the South African is still just about at the peak of his powers, at 35 Contepomi's best years are undoubtedly behind him. The Stade Francais player returned to the Pumas this summer against England after supposedly retiring from the international game. 

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Jean de Villiers

The two-Test series did not go well for Contepomi. The Pumas were thumped in both games and the veteran struggled against the speed and bite of an exciting England back line. 

De Villiers and his fellow backs will look to exploit any apparent weakness in Contepomi's channel and it promises to be a long afternoon at the coalface for the Pumas skipper. 

The Springboks' skipper is certainly prepared for another tough battle, as reported by SuperSport.

They’ve [Argentina] been in the competition now for one year, and more importantly for us, we know where we are at as a team. We know what to expect, but we also know what to expect from ourselves and the standards that we have for this team.

Coming into the competition last year they definitely had a point to prove, and they definitely show they belong in this competition. They did well and were competitive throughout the campaign.

Obviously we can’t make too much of their performances against England because that was their second-stringers that played. They’ve been together for a long time now. They will be well prepared, and it definitely won’t be an easy game or an easy campaign.

 

Squad Depth 

Although Argentinean rugby is in better shape than ever before, below their best starting XV they still lack players of proven international quality. 

The situation is improving and regular competition in the Rugby Championship will keep it on an upward curve. 

But whereas South Africa can bring on players of the quality of Fourie du Preez, Bismarck de Plessis and Jan Serfontein after 60 minutes to replace tired legs, the Pumas have no such luxury in terms of quality replacements. 

Argentina were at their most vulnerable in the final quarter of their games last year, and teams will look to take advantage of that more so this season.

 

Prediction 

South Africa to win by 15 points.

Argentina will be as competitive as ever, but the Boks' class will tell as the game goes on.

They also will want to make amends for the draw last time they met and put a smile on the faces of a packed FNB Stadium celebrating Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture day.

 

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