Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer named his strongest possible team as a mark of the greatest respect to an outstanding Argentina team as both teams chase the end-of-season reward of a bronze medal at the Olympic Stadium in London on Friday evening.
Victor Matfield replaces Lood de Jager as one of only two changes to the starting line-up from Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand. He takes over the over the captaincy from the injured Fourie du Preez, whose place in the No 9 jersey is taken by Ruan Pienaar with Rudy Paige coming on to the bench.
“This is a critical match for us and we owe it to ourselves and our supporters to end the season on a high note,” said Meyer.
“The Pumas have made massive strides in recent years and we’ve experienced first-hand how tough an opponent they can be. The players realise that they will have to lift themselves for one final push on Friday to ensure that South African rugby goes into the off season on a winning note.
“I considered fielding a much-changed team and weighed the pros and cons but ultimately decided the team that has grown together over the past few weeks was the one with the best chance of delivering victory for our supporters.”
Meyer said the playoff match for third place at the World Cup is not what the Springboks had hoped for, but that they will approach the final Test of 2015 as the final.
“The players have all spoken about the honour of wearing the Springbok jersey and this Test is no different – we will never settle for being second or third best,” he said.
“It is my task to get them in the right frame of mind after the disappointment of last weekend and to ensure we bounce back with a good win after a tough week. To lose a Test is never good enough but we’ve put last week behind us and our focus is now solely on Friday.
“Although our aim was always to win the competition, we have the opportunity to finish our campaign on a high and that is what we will be aiming for against a very good Argentinean side.
Pat Lambie will reach the special milestone of 50 Test caps for South Africa if he gets game-time off the bench.
The Springbok team to face Argentina in London is:
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Argentina –15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Horacio Agulla; 10 Nicolás Sánchez (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Lucas Noguera, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.
Stats and facts:
• Only once before did South Africa and Argentina meet in a RWC tournament. In 2007 they played in one semi-final at Stade de France while France and England contested the other semi-final. South Africa won that match by 37-13.
• Friday’s Test match will be the 22nd between the two countries. South Africa’s record against Argentina: P: 21; W: 19; L: 1; D: 1; PF: 779; PA: 410; Win%: 90%.
• The total Test caps for the Springbok starting line-up is 835. There are 342 caps in the backline with 493 caps amongst the forwards. On the bench there are a further 274 caps.
• Bryan Habana will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 115 caps in this position. He is the most experienced Springbok backline player with 116 caps and only Victor Matfield has played in more Test matches.
• If he scores a try, Habana will extend his own record of 64 Test tries for South Africa. Currently he is joint second on the list for most Test tries. David Campese of Australia is the other player. First on the list is Daisuke Ohata of Japan on 69 career tries.
• Habana is the world record holder for most Test tries as a wing. He surpassed the previous record of Daisuke Ohata of Japan (62) during the pool match against the USA.
• Habana is the joint record holder for most career tries (15) in RWC tournaments, with Jonah Lomu of New Zealand. Drew Mitchell of Australia is next on the list with 14 RWC career tries. Friday’s Test will be his 18th RWC match, the most RWC matches by a Springbok backline player.
• Habana holds the record for most Test matches (11) against Argentina as well as most career tries (7) by a Springbok against Argentina.
• Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen will be playing in their record 44th Test as a wing combination in the starting XV.
• Handré Pollard kicked five successful penalty goals in the match against New Zealand to become the new Springbok record holder with 19 RWC penalty goals. This surpassed the record of 17 career penalty goals previously held by Percy Montgomery. This Test will be his 20th in the Green and Gold.
• Schalk Burger will play in his 79th Test as a flank, South Africa’s most capped Springbok flank. Friday’s Test will be his 20th RWC Test – the most by a Springbok in RWC tournaments. He is also the Springbok record holder for most tries as a flank (14) as well as a forward (16).
• Victor Matfield will captain the team for the 23rd time, making him the fifth most capped captain for South Africa. His 127th Test cap for South Africa makes him the sixth most capped player in the world. Victor made his Test debut on 30 June, 2001 against Italy. Friday’s Test will be 14 years and 122 days later, the longest career span in Springbok rugby.
• Bismarck du Plessis is the Springbok record holder for most tries (11) in Tests as a hooker. He and brother Jannie will play in their 50th Test together should Jannie be used from the bench.
• The referee is John Lacey of Ireland who is a former rugby player who played on the wing and at fullback for Munster until 2007. His debut as an international referee was in March 2010. During this tournament he was referee in three Test matches, including the New Zealand/Tonga Test.
• It will be his third Test involving South Africa. Of the previous two Tests, South Africa won one (against Argentina in 2014) and lost one (against Wales in 2014).
• The Stadium at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the venue for this Bronze final match. South Africa have played one Test at this stadium, against the USA in this tournament winning 64-0.
Springbok Test match record holders at the Olympic Stadium:
•Most points: 15 by Bryan Habana (3t) against the USA, 7 October, 2015
•Most tries: 3 by Bryan Habana against the USA, 7 October, 2015
•Most conversions: 4 by Handré Pollard against the USA, 7 October, 2015