Boks bring powerful blend of youth and experience for Pumas clash as RWC tinkering continues

Boks bring powerful blend of youth and experience for Pumas clash as RWC tinkering continues
Duane Vermeulen will captain South Africa against the Pumas at Ellis Park. Vermeulen skippered the Boks when they beat Australia 43-12 at Loftus on 8 July. (Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

Duane Vermeulen will lead the Springboks in their second and final home match of the 2023 season against Argentina at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The rugby world moves quickly in the frantic weeks before a World Cup. There is little time to dwell on past success or failure because the next challenge is always approaching with the inevitability of waves hitting a coastline.

Results matter, but at this stage, coaches are poring over performances and processes for answers. Winning isn’t an excuse to take it easy and losing isn’t a reason to panic. The devil is always in the details. Obviously, positive results are better than negative outcomes, but both can be misleading without context.

Coach Jacques Nienaber has made nine changes to the starting lineup that lost 35-20 against the All Blacks for this weekend’s last home game against the Pumas at Ellis Park.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ruthless All Blacks outplay Boks as they put one hand on Rugby Championship trophy

It’s not a sign of panic at the Auckland result, but rather a continuation of a plan that is geared towards being ready on 10 September — the Boks’ opening game of Rugby World Cup 2023 against Scotland.

Auckland seems a long time ago now. Yet not even 10 days have passed since the Springboks were blown away in 20 minutes by a near-perfect opening quarter of rugby from the All Blacks.

New Zealand’s perfection was aided by a start so passive from the Boks, you might wonder if they joined a Mennonite chapter before taking to the Mount Smart Stadium field.

Cheslin Kolbe

Cheslin Kolbe will start on the wing against Argentina and he might pick up some kicking duties as well. It will be Kolbe’s first appearance at Ellis Park in a Springbok jersey. (Photo: Clement Mahoudeau/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Lack of game time for many key players in the advance party that arrived in New Zealand early, a punishing travel schedule for those arriving later and well, playing the All Blacks in New Zealand, were all cited as reasons for the setback.

And they were valid excuses although nothing particularly new. To beat the All Blacks anywhere, but especially in New Zealand, needs every aspect to be operating 100%. That wasn’t the case.

Clearly, the Boks were below par in Auckland. Clearly, they need to be better, and almost certainly, no venue provides them with a better springboard to improve than Ellis Park.

Argentina are next up this weekend and will have confidence after beating the Wallabies 34-31 in Sydney, although the Wallabies are in a rut and still finding their feet under a new coach in Eddie Jones.

Regardless, any win in Australia is a good one, which is why the Boks have picked a powerful team this weekend. There is no future in writing off the Pumas simply because history indicates that they struggle on the highveld.

Grant Williams, Boks vs Pumas

Scrumhalf Grant Williams will make his first Test start against Argentina at Ellis Park this weekend. Williams has been impressive off the bench this season. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)


The new halfback pairing of Grant Williams, making his first Test start, and Manie Libbok in tandem, sends prickles of excitement down your spine. On a firm pitch, with the sun on their backs, this pair could make hay if the pack gives them a solid platform.

And why shouldn’t it? Even in Auckland, after the opening quarter of shock and awe from the All Blacks, the Bok pack started dominating.

Marco van Staden, who was excellent when the Boks walloped the Wallabies 43-12 at Loftus earlier this month, deservedly has a chance to start again.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Boks underline their killer mentality by focusing on missed chances against Wallabies and not the winning margin 

Pieter-Steph du Toit, who is quietly coming back up to Test speed after a season of club rugby in Japan, starts at blindside. There is lots to love about that back row.

Eben Etzebeth starts alongside Marvin Orie in the second row and Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe make up a front row that leads to envious salivation by coaches from Touws River to Tucuman.

Throw in wings Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse and this is a team packed with so much potential electricity it could power several loadshed cities.

Nienaber opted for a five-three split on the bench in favour of the forwards, which includes prop Trevor Nyakane, who will provide an impact with hooker Bongi Mbonambi, Vincent Koch (prop), RG Snyman (lock) and Kwagga Smith (loose forward).

The three backs on the bench are Faf de Klerk (scrumhalf), Lukhanyo Am (centre), and the versatile Damian Willemse.

“This is a quality team that will offer us the skills we need against Argentina,” said Nienaber. “It also contains a good balance of experience and youth, which is vital as we build toward the Rugby World Cup.

“There are only four more matches before we kick off our Rugby World Cup campaign so it’s a fine balancing act to give all the players a chance to stake a claim for places while selecting teams that we believe are best equipped for the opposition we’ll face, and we’re pleased with the way we’ve managed that process up to now.

“Obviously the result in New Zealand was bitterly disappointing, but we came into the season with a plan that will hopefully allow us to select the best possible squad for the World Cup and peak at the right time.”

Trevor Nyakane, Boks vs Pumas

Prop Trevor Nyakane make his first Test appearance of 2023 off the bench when the Boks face the Pumas at Ellis Park this weekend. (Photo: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix)

Highveld hoodoo for Pumas

The Pumas have lost all six visits on the highveld against the Boks since 1994, including three heavy defeats in Johannesburg. In 1994 they lost 46-26 at Ellis Park. The Boks dished out a bigger hiding in Doornfontein in 2008, winning 63-9 and then in 2013 thrashed the Pumas 73-13 at the FNB Stadium.

Joburg is a tough city at the best of times. For the Pumas, it’s a nightmare. But they will stay in the fight unlike previous incarnations in the famous hooped jersey in Joburg, who let their heads drop.

In the opening round of the Rugby Championship, the All Blacks did to the Pumas what they did to the Boks — blew them away in the opening half an hour. By halftime in Mendoza Argentina were 31-0 down at halftime. They lost 41-12, which in the context of the match underlined their grit. Previously they might have been thrashed by 60 points or more after a horror half.

Against Australia a week later the match was always tight. It needed a late try from No 8 Juan Martin Gonzalez to win it.

“Argentina are a team that plays with a lot of pride, and they don’t go away,” Bok assistant coach Deon Davids said.

“They fought until the end against Australia and earned the win, and against New Zealand, they started slowly, but went on to win the second half. So, it’s going to be a grind from the start, but we have to be accurate and play in the right areas of the field.” DM

Springbok Team:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Grant Williams, 8  Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff.


16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Lukhanyo Am, 23 Damian Willemse.


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