The Springboks unbeaten run in 2017 shouldn’t be leaned on too heavily. Allister Coetzee and his men managed a 3-0 whitewash over an underwhelming France side in the June series, but it won’t matter too much when they take on the superior opposition of Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, which kicks off this weekend.
Los Pumas are first on the agenda, and are being hosted in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium for the encounter.
Unfortunately, the Springboks are without the services of Warren Whiteley, who captained the side well during the June matches. In his place, Coetzee has given Cheetahs loose forward Uzair Cassiem the number 8 jersey, who made his debut off the bench in November last year against Wales. Eben Etzebeth has been given the nod with the captaincy.
The other change in the pack that started the third French Test, sees the inclusion of experienced tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen in place of Ruan Dreyer.
Interestingly, Curwin Bosch, the Sharks and Junior Springbok flyhalf, has been named on the bench and will make his Springbok debut should he run onto the field on Saturday. There’s no doubt that Bosch is a talented prospect, but the 20-year-old’s inclusion may be premature given his inexperience at senior level rugby. Argentina’s attacking threats, particularly used in that flyhalf inside channel will undoubtedly test Elton Jantjies, and then Bosch, if he’s to make a second-half appearance.
Experienced Springbok Tendai Mtawarira is set to play in a record 30th consecutive Rugby Championship match, surpassing the record held by wing Bryan Habana. The 32-year-old will also extend his record as the most-capped Springbok prop to 91 Tests.
The Argentine’s have made a few key changes to their regular starters, with Facundo Isa, Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe ineligible due to overseas club duties. That said, they have some calm with the likes of Martín Landajo at scrumhalf, Nicolás Sánchez at flyhalf, and Joaquín Tuculet at fullback providing the experience in the backline.
The mercurial Juan Martin Hernandez is also lurking on the bench, who will undoubtedly add some attacking prowess in the later stages of the game.
Prediction: This opening clash will be a huge test for the Springboks, and while they may be on the rise, Argentina are always underrated and always over-deliver. If the Springboks utilise their superior forward pack, they should secure a close win. Springboks by 5.
Springboks – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Uzair Cassiem, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Trevor Nyakane,19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jean-Luc du Preez, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Damian de Allende.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Ramiro Herrera, 19 Marcos Cremer, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Juan Martin Hernandez, 23 Matías Moroni.
And if you want to weekend beers off the guys at SportingBet, you can make your predictions on the upcoming Rugby Championship matches here.