Rugby Championship News

Bok young guns hope to impress against Pumas





Young Springboks Handre Pollard, Damian de Allende and Lood de Jager are hoping to be the centre of attention on Saturday in a Rugby Championship Test against Argentina in Pretoria.

The two-time world champions have run up 100 points at home against the Pumas while conceding just 19 in two previous southern hemisphere championship matches.

And the margin of victory in the first-round game seems the only issue to be resolved when the second and eighth-ranked rugby nations clash at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria.

Coach Heyneke Meyer will send a mix of multi-cap ‘old hands’ and ‘young guns’ into battle on the South African highveld with the 2015 Rugby World Cup on their minds.

An injury to 2007 World Cup winner Jaque Fourie offers De Allende, a 22-year-old Western Stormer, a chance in the unfamiliar role of outside centre.

Big, strong, fast and an excellent passer, De Allende is more used to inside centre or left-wing, roles filled by skipper Jean de Villiers and fellow veteran Bryan Habana.

“I like his mental toughness,” said Meyer of De Allende. “He is a big guy who runs beautiful lines and has soft touches and skilful attributes.”

The Springbok coach says he knows all about deadly goal-kicker but often unadventurous fly-half Morne Steyn and needs depth in the crucial position.

Enter Northern Bull Pollard, a 20-year-old who debuted against Scotland two months ago and a player many believe is destined for stardom.

The words of legendary former Springboks fly-half Naas Botha can only boost the confidence of the tall, physically imposing playmaker.

“Handre has an amazing skill set. He is big, fast, handles well, and has good vision and maturity.

“There used to be a question mark over his goal-kicking consistency, but that has been rectified,” said one of the most accurate goal-kickers in South African rugby history.

Whereas Steyn favours lying deep and tactical kicks, Pollard relishes attacking the advantage line and many pundits believe he will be the first choice come September 2015 in England.

When Bakkies Botha moved to France after an unsuccessful World Cup defence in 2011 and Victor Matfield temporarily retired, South Africa went from having the best locks in the world to a desperate search for replacements.

Eben Etzebeth emerged as a young front-of-lineout enforcer in place of Botha, but filling the shoes of Matfield proved more problematic.

De Jager, a two-metre-plus 21-year-old from the unfashionable Central Cheetahs, got his chance against Scotland and Meyer loved what he saw.

“Lood is a very intelligent player and probably one of the most improved Springboks I have coached this season. I think he has got an unbelievable future.”

Although Argentina say they are rebuilding, only full-back Joaquin Tuculet, left-wing Manuel Montero and tight-head prop Ramiro Herrera have no Rugby Championship experience.

England-based hooker Agustin Creevy has succeeded France-based flank Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe as skipper of a Pumas side seeking a first Championship victory after a draw and 11 losses over two seasons.

Those results cost coach Santiago Phelan his job and replacement Daniel Hourcade acknowledges the mammoth mission awaiting his team at the home of the Northern Bulls.

“We had a very good build-up,” he said referring to squad training at high performance centres in Florida and Pretoria.

“The key is not to let the Springboks get comfortable. Defence will also be crucial, but when we have opportunities to attack, we intend doing so.

“Our biggest challenge is to impose our offensive system,” he said of a nation that has managed only 14 tries in 12 Rugby Championship Tests.

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