All Blacks still the team to target for Springboks

GERALD IMRAY
Last updated 03:36 15/08/2014

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South Africa's mission stays the same: Beat New Zealand.

Just like in the past two Rugby Championships under coach Heyneke Meyer, the Springboks will open against tournament struggler Argentina on Saturday (Sunday NZ time) looking for the momentum that might finally deliver a victory over the top-ranked and world champion All Blacks further down the road.

Meyer hasn't yet found a way to beat New Zealand since taking over in 2012 and South Africa hasn't had success against its greatest rival for three years. That haunts the Springboks.

Argentina's Pumas, meanwhile, are seeking a first Rugby Championship victory over anyone. The South Americans have lost 11 and drawn one of their 12 games since stepping up to the tournament two years ago.

Against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld this weekend, another long afternoon likely awaits the Pumas, who lost 73-13 and conceded nine tries to one in their last test in South Africa 12 months ago.

Meyer has said Argentina has "caught up" with the other three - South Africa, New Zealand and Australia - and warned his heavily favoured team this week to be "switched on". But a loss for South Africa at home to Argentina is unthinkable and would be a major setback for a side with aspirations of maintaining its mantle as New Zealand's closest challenger for the southern hemisphere title this year and the world title next year.

South Africa has captain and centre Jean de Villiers back fit and in the team, while Argentina arrives with a new coach in Daniel Hourcade and new captain in hooker Agustin Creevy. And possibly a new tactical outlook after Argentina's focus on the strength of its forward pack wasn't enough in previous games, particularly against a South African team known for its physicality.

"A slow game would prolong the agony," Hourcade said. Instead, Argentina wants to attack with speed and width against South Africa, with the coach saying "I think it's the only way to beat them."

Meyer's South Africa is also going through an intriguing evolution.

He isn't afraid to make bold selections, giving 20-year-old flyhalf Handre Pollard a start over 56-test veteran Morne Steyn against Argentina. Wing Cornal Hendricks, a former South African sevens international, has been swiftly promoted to the 15-a-side team.

Yet if not for injuries to all of them, Meyer would also be starting with three veterans of the 2007 World Cup-winning campaign: 37-year-old lock Victor Matfield, 32-year-old scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and 31-year-old outside center Jaque Fourie. South Africa has struggled to find reliable long-term replacements in their positions, prompting Meyer to go back to some old hands.

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Meyer has brought his own brand of passion. He's often seen shouting, twitching, pumping his fists and slamming his hands down on a desk while watching his team play from the coach's box.

"I just want this team to go out there and smash every team we play against," he said recently.

But Meyer also realises his South Africa is not yet the finely-tuned outfit that New Zealand is.

"We need to improve our skill level all over if we want to be the best team in the world."

TEAMS

South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks, Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers (captain), Bryan Habana, Handre Pollard, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Lood de Jager, Bakkies Botha, Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Reserves: Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee, Francois Hougaard, Morne Steyn, Jan Serfontein.

Argentina: Joaquin Tuculet, Horacio Agulla, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Martin Hernandez, Manuel Montero, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Mariano Galarza, Ramiro Herrera, Agustin Creevy (captain), Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Matias Cortese, Lucas Noguera Paz, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Matias Alemanno, Leonardo Senatore, Tomas Cubelli, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

- AP

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