Springbok forwards coach Johan van Graan has predicted that South Africa’s season opening Rugby Championship match against Argentina will be an open affair in Pretoria on Saturday.
South Africa’s Springboks have never lost to Argentina’s Pumas and in the 17 Tests between the nations the closest Argentina have come is a draw in 2012.
“One thing you have to give the Springboks and Argentina credit for is, in 2013, they stole the most ball not only at breakdowns but scrum, lineouts and in the air,” said Van Graan.
Last year the Springboks outscored Argentina by nine tries to one on their way to a 73-13 demolition of the Pumas.
Van Graan said both teams had been on top in terms of competing on the opposition’s ball at the set-pieces and the breakdowns over the last year.
“If you look at the June internationals, South Africa and Argentina were on top again.”
“What you can learn from that is it is going to be a contesting game –every breakdown, lineout, scrum and kickoff will be a contest.”
The Springboks have by now learned not to underestimate Argentina as they made the Boks work for the 17-22 victory in the return match in Mendoza, while the sides played to a 16-16 draw a year before at the same venue.
Meanwhile, team doctor Craig Roberts had some good news on the injury front with lock Victor Matfield the only serious casualty, although the Springbok stalwart was said to be recovering well.
“The one issue was of course is Victor Matfield who tweaked his knee. He had scans and saw an orthopaedic specialist and he responded well to rest and rehab,” Roberts said.
“We were a bit concerned that he might have to have a scope to clean out that little bit of cartilage. We will reassess him next week and see if he is available for the overseas leg against Argentina.”
Lock Eben Etzebeth and prop Frans Malherbe were released to play for Western Province in their Currie Cup match against the EP Kings, after coming through the weekend unscathed.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers was still recovering from a knee injury but Roberts said his rehabilitation was progressing well and he should lead the national side out onto the field.
Van Graan said the loss of Matfield, however, was a major blow to the team, not only in the lineouts but in other facets of play as well, he said.
He was, however, optimistic about Matfield’s possible replacements in the second row where they have been prepared to make the calls in the lineouts.
“Victor is probably the best lock that has ever played the game, so it is obviously a huge setback. He not only calls the lineouts but brings organisation around the field on defence and on attack,” Van Graan said.
“I can’t wait for the next guy to get an opportunity. We’ve worked hard on Lood de Jager and Eben Etzebeth, on their calling.
“We also worked on it during the June internationals on Lood and Duane Vermeulen, so whoever gets selected will make the calls.”