After the angst, tension and rancour of a pressure-laden series against the British & Irish Lions, the Springboks will face a different challenge in the 2021 Rugby Championship.
The Springboks’ status as the best team in the world is no longer in question. At least, for the next week it isn’t because, in rugby, a week is a long time.
World Cup wins and Lions series’ victories reveal a team that has been successful. But success quickly becomes old news if it isn’t backed up with sustained excellence, professionalism and positive results.
This is why Bok coach Jacques Nienaber and most of the players refrained from any over-indulgence after clinching a 2-1 series win over the Lions last week. The challenges keep coming and the time for reflection on successes will come later.
In the early hours of Sunday morning after the Boks had clinched thier 2-1 series win over the Lions, Nienaber was pouring over footage of the Pumas and of his team, searching for answers to problems and thinking of ways to make it uncomfortable for his next opponents.
Nienaber hardly ever switches off, and certainly not when the Boks are only four matches deep in a 13-Test season crammed into five months.
“The players celebrated a little last Saturday night, but the coaches had been preparing for Argentina a while ago. On Sunday we had lots of clips to study and we got straight back into preparation,” Bok captain Siya Kolisi said.
“The Lions series is behind us and we are only looking forward now.”
The Pumas of Argentina are coming at the Boks next and anyone who thinks knocking the South Americans off easily clearly hasn’t been watching much rugby recently. Fortunately, Nienaber and his staff have been preparing for a campaign rather than a once-off challenge against the Lions.
It’s an easily overlooked fact that while the Boks were focused on beating the Lions, they also had to cast a glance forward to the Rugby Championships. Because of that, their Lions selections, especially in the third Test, were influenced by back-to-back games against the Pumas.
Lions tours might be contained environments in isolation, but they are only played in a vacuum by the Lions, who had no ‘next week’ after the third Test. The Boks had ‘next week’ and the week after and several weeks after that to consider.
So Nienaber has rung the changes for the first outing in defence of the title the Boks won in 2019 and were unable to defend due to Covid in 2020.
“We will have five tough Test matches on the trot — five weekends on the trot with the Lions and these two (Argentina) games,” Nienaber said.
“Unfortunately, we are in a position where we have to look at player welfare. We have some strategic goals that we want to try and achieve — our first goal will always be to win, and our second one is to create squad depth and get experience.”
There are 10 changes to the side that beat the Lions 19-16 last weekend with six of them in the backline. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies will lead the Bok line against a Pumas side that will offer a different challenge to the Lions.
Argentina have won six of their seven Tests since Rugby World Cup 2019, including a famous first win over the All Blacks last year. They won’t be short of confidence.
“You have to be up for it when you play against Argentina because they are tough. They maul and scrum well. We have a lot of respect for them,” Kolisi said.
The Argentineans have some flamboyant attacking players, but they also have a pack, especially in the loose, that will cause some breakdown havoc. Former skipper Pablo Matera is one of the best in the world in the dark arts of the breakdown battle and he will keep the likes of Kwagga Smith and Kolisi engaged.
“We expect them to be very confident, and they are also a very physical team, much like us, with a mix of athleticism and power,” said Bok wing Sbu Nkosi.
“The battle you fight against the Pumas is different to what you fight against the Lions because of the make-up of their team. We expect them to be confident and to stand their ground, and we know we need to respect them as they have slain a few big giants recently.”
15-Damian Willemse, 14-Sbu Nkosi, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Frans Steyn, 11-Aphelele Fassi, 10-Elton Jantjies, 9-Cobus Reinach, 8-Jasper Wiese, 7-Kwagga Smith, 6-Siya Kolisi (captain), 5-Lood de Jager, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Wilco Louw, 2-Joseph Dweba, 1-Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16-Malcolm Marx, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Vincent Koch, 19-Marvin Orie, 20-Marco van Staden, 21-Dan du Preez, 22-Herschel Jantjies, 23-Morne Steyn.
15-Santiago Carreras, 14-Bautista Delguy, 13-Santiago Chocobares, 12-Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11-Matías Moroni, 10-Nicolás Sánchez, 9-Felipe Ezcurra, 8-Rodrigo Bruni, 7-Facundo Isa, 6-Pablo Matera, 5-Marcos Kremer, 4-Guido Petti, 3-Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2-Julián Montoya (captain), 1-Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16-Facundo Bosch, 17-Carlos Muzzio, 18-Santiago Medrano, 19-Tomás Lavanini, 20-Matías Alemanno, 21-Gonzalo Bertranou, 22-Domingo Miotti, 23-Sebastian Cancelliere
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Stats and facts:
- South Africa’s record against Argentina: Played 30, won 26, lost 3, drawn 1, points for 1058, points against 594, tries scored 125, tries conceded 56, highest score 73pts, biggest win 60pts, win percentage: 87%.
- Frans Steyn needs nine more points to reach 150 career points.
- Morne Steyn is the Springboks’ second-highest points-scorer with 742 points and needs eight points to reach 750 career points. He holds the record for the most penalty goals (156) in his 67 Tests.
- Morne Steyn is the top points scorer against Argentina with 84 points (15 conversions and 18 penalty goals) in seven Test matches.
- Elton Jantjies needs one penalty goal to earn his 50th career penalty goal.
- The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 412.
- There are 192 caps in the backline, 220 in the pack and a further 200 on the bench.
- The average caps-per-player in the starting lineup is 27, while the players on the bench average 25 caps.