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Fri Apr 25 09:09:18 SAST 2014

It's the end of Meyer's honeymoon

CRAIG RAY | 17 August, 2012 06:180 Comments
2012 The Castle Rugby Championship: Springboks training session
Heyneke Meyer during the Springboks training session at Westerford High School Sport Fields on August 15, 2012 in Cape Town
Image by: Carl Fourie / Gallo Images

CAPE Town has given Argentina, newcomers to the southern hemisphere's top rugby tournament, a rousing welcome this week, but cordiality will cease at 5pm tomorrow when the Springboks and Pumas clash.

The Newlands match marks the beginning of a new era, with the inclusion of Argentina in the Four Nations tournament, breathing new life into the stale Tri-Nations format.

It also marks the beginning of the end of the honeymoon for Bok coach Heyneke Meyer.

After a comfortable series win over England in June, in which the Boks produced only 80 minutes of good rugby, the Four Nations - also featuring the Wallabies and All Blacks - is the standard against which the Boks have to measure themselves.

Meyer and his team do not necessarily have to win the title this year to show they are on the right track, but they have to deliver good results and show positive signs of progress.

The Pumas are not under pressure to win the tournament, but, as Bok centre Frans Steyn pointed out: "They are going to beat someone, somewhere along the way in the tournament".

The Boks must ensure they are not the first casualties.

Meyer has endured a frustrating build-up to the match with injuries and weary Sharks players cutting into valuable preparation time last week.

The Pumas, by contrast, have been in camp since July 1, working on their fitness, plotting their strategies and mentally preparing themselves for the tournament.

All Black World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry spent three weeks with the Pumas and has no doubt given good insights and tactics to help them beat the Boks.

The Pumas are fresh, a little underdone even, with only two warm-up games against French club Stade Francais under their belts in the last seven weeks. But on the up side they have a fully fit, niggle-free group of players. The Boks go into the game with several players still trying to shake off Super 15 fatigue.

No8 Keegan Daniel, making his first start for the Boks, is recovering from an abscess caused by a spider bite.

Lock Andries Bekker says he is "managing" his persistent back problems and second-row partner Eben Etzebeth has only trained lightly this week because of a hip injury.

Argentina flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez returns to test rugby for the first time in three years. His presence after an injury-ridden period has lifted the mood of the Pumas - he is a genuine match-winner in tight games.

But ultimately this is the Springboks' game to lose.

Bekker and Etzebeth remain key to the Boks' fortunes tomorrow, especially with the late withdrawal of No 8 Pierre Spies with a broken finger.

The 2.08m Bekker's inclusion in a test side for the first time in two years has enthused hooker Bismarck du Plessis.

"I can't think of a hooker who wouldn't enjoy throwing the ball to a statue like Andries," Du Plessis said.

Argentina will target the Boks scrum, but with that aspect of the game having less of an impact than lineouts, the Boks will be confident of securing enough quality possession from which they can construct a victory.

Du Plessis, Willem Alberts and Marcell Coetzee will create momentum for the Boks, allowing the home side to build multiple attacking phases.

Argentina will be brave and committed, they will have a strong scrum and good defensive technique, but ultimately they will lack the intensity over 80 minutes at a level they seldom experience.

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It's the end of Meyer's honeymoon

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