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Shuffled Springboks pack could be a masterstroke – Jake White

By Jake White
(Photo by Wikus de Wet/AFP via Getty Images)

I remember having a debate with the great Johann Rupert. He had bet me that “the Pumas have beaten the Springboks before”. I said: “No you are wrong, they have never beaten the Springboks.” He said: “No, they have and beat them in South Africa.”

Eventually, with a smile, he apologised to me and said: “Okay, it wasn’t the Pumas. They were called the Jaguares.” That’s because the squad the South Americans had bought over included a few Chileans and Uruguayans.

From memory, it was back when Hugo Porta was playing, so in effect it was a Test team in all but name. The irony of that conversation was that every South African coach had bragging rights about the fact they had never lost to Argentina.

Anyway, I was able to maintain that record, but I remember we got very close to losing in Buenos Aries. It was back in 2005, a game notable for the fact Jean de Villiers accidentally pushed Lucas Borges into the moat.

We were down at half-time and I vividly remember the speech I gave. I said to the players in the changing room, “I want you to look at the player on your left and your right.”

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They looked at me in a funny way, so I said: “No, do it.” They did and I said: “Look at each other because you will be remembered as the first group of players to ever lose to Argentina in a Test match if you don’t start playing.” Our performance picked up and we played pretty well in the second half to come away with a 34-23 win.

No Springboks side ever wanted to be the first to lose to Los Pumas but it has happened three times since 2015. Under Heyneke Meyer in 2015, Allister Coetzee in 2016 and even Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber in 2018 when they were turning the team around.

That sums up how far Los Pumas have come and they have also beaten New Zealand, Australia and England away in recent years.

Interestingly, I listened to current Argentina boss Michael Cheika being interviewed pre-game last weekend in Johannesburg. He talked about changing his players’ mindset. One of the things he had worked hardest on was becoming a little less ‘Latin’ on the field of play. You know, not to be too overly emotional and to be more calculated.

This starts with not giving too many cards away and you can see their discipline has already improved. In the past, you used to be able to get under their skin and guarantee you would be playing against 14 men for a while.

Their fitness and conditioning have also improved because they are playing abroad rather than at local, more amateur clubs. Look at how they scored two late tries against the Boks to only lose by a point. Still, the feeling pre-game was that the Boks would win comfortably. I listened to a DJ on the radio saying the Boks would “win by 30 points”.

Informed rugby fans would have known that was an inflated prediction but even so, most people would have expected to win a bit more comfortably. However, as I have stated before, the days of sides running up cricket scores against the Pumas are long gone.

I remember it was a massive upset when they came third in the Rugby World Cup in 2007, and if you go back a little further, I remember when Alex ‘Grizz’ Wylie headed down there to coach. At the time it was seen as a huge coup, a real statement of intent.

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Now you look at Chieka bringing Felipe Contepomi’s intellect back. Their game, which was always through the maul and the scrum is completely different. The bringing in of sevens stars like Rodrigo Isgro and Lautaro Bazan Velez is smart and you see the kind of pace they have in the backs. It used to be about the bajada and the maul. Not anymore.

If you look at the Boks, the team that narrowly won 22-21 was basically the team the public would have chosen. Malcolm Marx was back, Pieter-Steph du Toit was starting and that is why there was a bit of deflation after the game.

You can’t keep the South African fans down for long, however, and the latest narrative is, ‘This is wonderful, we have underdog tags going into a World Cup’. You have to love the fans.

This weekend’s rematch is a real chance for Argentina to measure where they are. For us, it’s a massive test of our strength in depth. The motivation for many of the players is that they are fighting for their lives and a squad place for the World Cup – it’s the final audition.

There are no more chances and you are not going to get more desperate than that. The message is that it is last chance saloon for many of the guys that headed out to Argentina.

Of the players rested and left at home, you would have to say there is a very, very good chance of them being named in the 33-man squad next Tuesday.

On Saturday, the coaches will be giving a chance to those players who haven’t played too much as a thank-you for their efforts this year. However, for the boys who don’t make the cut, my message would be don’t give up hope.

I saw one stat that 30 per cent of players who are left behind generally end up at the World Cup through injury, so keep in shape and keep your phone on!

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When looking at the composition of the 33-man squad, this is where being a utility player becomes indispensable. For instance, in the back row, Kwagga Smith will go because he can play six, seven or eight. He will be back up to Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph and Marco van Staden who are my starters.

If I was wearing my coaching cap, that is how I read their selection. I still think they will find a reason to take Siya Kolisi even if he can only play the last two pool games. He is so important to the squad.

Only the other day, I was telling my wife on a walk, “What some people don’t understand is that the World Cup is unique because you can’t just chop and change players. If a player goes home, that is final”.

If a player gets a concussion for two weeks, a tweaked hammy or a stinger, or even flu, you can’t just replace him for a game or two. There is no halfway house, so there is a lot to be said for playing in a few positions.

Take players like Cobus Reinach, Grant Williams and even Jaden Hendrikse, they can all play on the wing at a push. Then you have Damian Willemse who can play 10, 12 and 15. These players are worth their weight in gold.

Up front, I feel the Springboks will take six props that goes without saying and three hookers. At hooker, it’s whether they take Joseph Dweba or Deon Fourie, who can play hooker and on the flank.

When you have a fit squad and everyone is available, everyone is happy, but the World Cup doesn’t work like that. The longer it goes on, the more you are problem-solving.

Lastly, a lot of things that Jacques said this week are quite valid. He said the rotation of the Boks in the last couple of weeks could prove to be a strength in the tournament.

The one thing they have done in the last five years is consistently pick the same players and the fact they have finally shuffled the pack could be a masterstroke. The World Cup is nearly upon us.

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7 Comments
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KEVIN 347 days ago

Both Pumas and Boks have developed some good running rugby and it’s great to whatch. The World Cup will probably be decided by the defences with little space conceded and will be interesting to see how the attacking side fares. Hopefully the referees police the offside rules especially for the outside backs

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gustavo 347 days ago

Hi Ian, the name of the person that played for both Argentina and South Africa and was captain for both teams was Barry "Fairy" Heatlie, whom by the way is known to be the one that has design the colours for the Boks jersey.

c
carlos 348 days ago

In 1965, your lot decided to name our team Pumas, as you couldn't say "jaguareté". That year, the now named Pumas, beat your "Junior" (in name only) Springboks at Ellis Park. I find it fascinating how South Africans are so good at reinventing history to suit their needs. Never mind, carry on and keep playing ruby.

By the way, you should also know that in the distant past, a former Springbok captain became captain of the Argentine rugby team, before they were called Pumas. I think it is the only time that a player captained both national teams.

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Francisco 348 days ago

Hi Jake, great article...! I fully agree with the 'Latino' nature of Los Pumas. During RWC2019, for example, we had a mental disconnection against France that hurt our game and we paid for it with points conceded, which in the end we couldn't recover. Those were 10 fateful minutes. I think that all Los Pumas games have less of those 10 fateful minutes. But inconsistencies still persist in the metrics that involve the 'Discipline' variable. That is another 'manifestation' of what I like to call 'being Latino' that we must improve. We are on an interesting path that we must not neglect, even after RWC2023. Greetings.

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Chris 348 days ago

I really hope we don't play that up and under rugby again. Total waste of the talent we have. When we played fast attacking rugby we looked dangerous. I would rather lose like we did to the All Blacks, backing ourselves than win like we did against the Pumas.

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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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