South Africa fly-half Handre Pollard kicks a penalty en route to scoring 31 points against Argentina in Salta last weekendSouth Africa fly-half Handre Pollard kicks a penalty en route to scoring 31 points against Argentina in Salta last weekend (AFP Photo/Juan GASPARINI)
Johannesburg (AFP) - South Africa and Argentina are poles apart going into a Rugby World Cup warm-up match in Pretoria Saturday, just one week after Handre Pollard starred as the Springboks embarrassed the Pumas 46-13.
While the South Africans are on the rise and looking increasingly like contenders to win the global championship a record-equalling third time, the Argentines are in the doldrums.
Since mid-July, the Springboks have won convincingly at home to Australia and away to Argentina and drawn with world champions New Zealand in Wellington to lift the Rugby Championship for the first time.
But the Pumas lost all three matches in the southern hemisphere competition reduced from a traditional six rounds to three because the World Cup kicks off in Japan on September 20.
Those losses stretched to eight the number of consecutive defeats and they have won only eight of 40 matches since coming fourth behind New Zealand, Australia and South Africa at the last World Cup.
South Africa were in serious trouble two years back after a 57-0 mauling by the All Blacks at the same Wellington ground where the Springboks have won and drawn in subsequent seasons.
The Springboks and Pumas changed coaches since the last World Cup with differing results as Rassie Erasmus turned the tide while Mario Ledesma has been unable to replicate the form of four years ago.
Cynics will label the Pretoria Test a B international as South Africa have changed the entire team that cruised to victory last Saturday while Argentina have kept only five of the humiliated side.
Erasmus says he knows "about 80 percent" of his 31 man squad, due to be named on Monday August 26, and the match at Loftus Versfeld stadium is the last chance for marginal contenders to impress.
That tag fits a number of Springboks, including full-back Warrick Gelant, centre Andre Esterhuizen and winger Dillyn Leyds among the backs.
- Borderline cases -
Props Thomas du Toit and Vincent Koch and loose forwards Rynhardt Elstadt and Marcell Coetzee are other borderline cases who could secure a flight to Tokyo with an outstanding performance.
"I have spoken to the players and everyone knows where we are regarding the squad," said Erasmus, a former Springbok loose forward in his second season as national coach.
"It is a tough situation because I can only choose 31 players and the list of genuine challengers is much larger."
Apart from the players in make-of-break scenarios, the Springboks coach will be watch loose forward and first choice captain Siya Kolisi with great interest.
Chosen as the first black Test skipper of South Africa last year, Kolisi injured a knee three months ago and this will be his first international appearance of the season.
To lift the added burden of the captaincy away from him while he seeks full fitness, Erasmus named veteran hooker Schalk Brits to lead the Springboks this weekend.
"This is a temporary measure as Siya may not even play the full first half," the coach emphasised. "He will lead South Africa at the World Cup provided he is fit."
South Africa share Pool B in Japan with trophy-holders New Zealand, Canada, Italy and Namibia while Argentina come up against England, France, Tonga and the United States in Pool C.
A malfunctioning scrum is the biggest headache facing former Pumas hooker Ledesma with the South Americans conceding a string of penalties last weekend and been forced to backpedal several times.
"You cannot hope to win internationals when your scrum is not functioning properly," stressed the Argentine coach.
For Pretoria, he has promoted loosehead Mayco Vivas, hooker Julian Montoya and tighthead Santiago Medrano, but all have been tried before and found wanting.