In the 1960s, it was South African coaches that went to Argentina and taught them how to play rugby, but who could have predicted back then that the mighty Springboks would return decades later in trepidation, and with the coach’s index finger hovering over the panic button.
In Argentina, any rugby follower knows and reveres the South African connection that has largely gone unfollowed in South Africa itself. It is why 10 players from the Pumas team of 1965 were at Kings Park last week to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Junior Springbok tour to their country. And it is why they joined the current Pumas players in celebrating their maiden victory over the Boks with a party in their Kings Park change room that reportedly went on well after midnight before they could be coaxed onto the bus.
Can it be that the students have become the teachers?
Well that has been the inference from Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer this week when he admitted the folly of trying to play what he called “Super Rugby” against a team schooled in the brutal approach of the Northern Hemisphere, which is where the Boks will find themselves in a few weeks, trying to win the Rugby World Cup. And against increasing odds.
The Boks left for Buenos Aires last night with the Sword of Democles not far from the head of coach Meyer, who it has to be said has painted himself into a corner with some regrettable selection decisions, although he has not been helped by an ongoing injury crisis.
It is true that Meyer has been robbed of beefy ball carriers such as Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts and Francois Louw, but in hindsight he will also wonder why he brought off-field pressure onto himself last week by moving Jesse Kriel to the wing to accommodate returning captain Jean de Villiers, meaning the dropping of Cornal Hendricks. He could also have given Lwazi Mvovo a chance on his home ground, not to mention, stick to his early week decision to play Patrick Lambie.
Be that as it may, the Boks were smashed up front, flyhalf Handre Pollard had a shocker and was booed off the field, and then off-field politics inevitably reared its head.
The refrain from Meyer and the Bok camp this week has been one of retribution, defiance and anger at themselves.
That is good and well but will that be enough to beat a home team that has done just about everything but win in the Boks’ last three visits.
There was a 16-16 draw in 2012 thanks to a last gasp interception try. In 2013, the cool goal kicking of Morne Steyn guided the Boks to a narrow 22-17 win, and last year Steyn again rescued his team in a 33-31 win.
How the tables have turned. Now it is the Pumas that have the self-belief that they can close out those games they could have won and it is the Boks who have the bit grimly in their teeth.
Meyer has lamented the fact that his forwards were bullied up front last week and to that end he will be grateful for the return, at last, of the blockbusting bruiser Willem Alberts.
“I have been watching the Rugby Championship games with the same emotions as any Springbok supporter,” Alberts said. “The only difference is that I know how hard the players have been working to get the results the public demand.
“Being back in the team, I know what is expected and required, having been in the stands and in the training group,” he said. “And that is to do your specific job to the best of your ability as part of the team plan. That is what you do in the green and gold, you bust a gut in your role, just as every other players does, and that should mean the result taking care of itself.”
But what exactly does that mean for Alberts and his seven other forwards.
“We have to deal with the physical challenge the Pumas challenge differently to what happened at Kings Park,” he said diplomatically. “The things is, we knew how they would have come at us in Durban but we were still out gunned …”
Alberts said that for the Boks it is a case of once bitten twice shy after their hammering up front. He said the Boks had been suffering from a hangover of sorts after the high-paced matches against the Wallabies and the All Blacks.
“The Pumas are relentlessly physical compared to New Zealand and Australia,” he said. “One to 23, they keep coming at you. It is confrontation all the way, where the other teams we have played this year switch from the physical battle to utilising their flair.
“And that is fine. We can play that game. We did not like being dominated. It is not going to happen two weeks in a row,” Alberts said.
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Legiuzamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Tomás Lezana, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Benjamin Macome, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Springboks: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10, Pat Lambie 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 21, Cobus Reinach, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Jan Serfontein.
by Mike Greenaway
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