Springbok stalwart Victor Matfield returns to action this weekend against Australia as the Rugby Championship table toppers look to inflict more misery on the Wallabies in Perth.
Matfield's return a timely boost
Matfield, who returned to all rugby this season after retiring from the sport over two years ago, has been in superb form for both the Bulls and South Africa this season and his towering presence will provide Heyneke Meyer's team with a much-needed boost after registering two unconvincing wins over Argentina in their opening championship clashes.
An injured Matfield watched from the sidelines as the Springboks struggled to a 13-6 opening win at Loftus Versfeld and a narrow 33-31 triumph the following week in Salta. On both occasions, the Argentinians exposed serious frailties in the South African pack.
South African pack demolished
For 90 minutes in Salta, the Argentinian pack demolished the South African set-piece in unthinkable fashion, which would have left Matfield and the Springbok coaching set-up in panic mode ahead of the Australasian leg of their tour.
The Pumas have always put emphasis on their powerful scrum, although nobody would have thought they would dominate a Springbok pack to such an extent. On at least three occasions they simply walked straight through the Bok set-piece to steal possession and leave the experienced front-row of South Africa in tatters.
Meyer and his squad have been working tirelessly to put their scrum woes behind them and have also named a more powerful team for the Wallaby clash that features no less than six changes.
Matfield slots in alongside Eben Etzebeth at the expense of Lood de Jager in the second row, a move that will not only provide their tight five more power in the set-piece but also give the Boks the initiative in the lineout, another part of their game they have struggled with so far this season.
Jannie du Plessis is retained at tighthead despite being bullied around by Argentina last time out, however brother Bismarck du Plessis makes way for Adriaan Strauss in a move that is more about giving the Sharks captain a much needed rest ahead of their clash with the All Blacks next weekend.
Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira is also recalled to the front-row, while Marcell Coetzee gets a start after his match-saving cameo last time out in Salta.
With the ball carrying skills of Willem Alberts unable to travel due to injury, Meyer has opted for a loose forward trio in Duane Vermeulen, Marcell Coetzee and Francois Louw that all have the ability of slowing down opposition ball at the breakdown, a threat that the Wallaby trio will almost certainly bring to the game this weekend.
In the backs, Morne Steyn returns at fly-half with Handre Pollard dropping out the squad altogether at the expense of Pat Lambie, who's versatility wins him a place on the bench.
Midfield has proved a serious headache this season for the Bok management after Frans Steyn called time on his international career at just 27-years of age, while World Cup winners Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen are both unavailable due to their Japanese commitments.
The Damian de Allende experiment at outside centre has been shelved for now, with Jan Serfontein, normally a specialist inside centre, partnering captain Jean de Villiers in midfield.
Serfontein, who filled in for the injured De Villiers recently against Wales and Scotland, showed he has the class for the highest level and will add much needed defensive resilience against a Wallaby backline that will be full of running if conditions allow it.
The brilliant Willie le Roux, Cornal Hendricks and Brian Habana in his 100th Test will provide the spark out wide and from the deep for the Springboks.
The three-time South African Rugby Player of the Year, who was also named the IRB Rugby Player of the Year in 2007, will lead the Springboks out on Saturday as he joins Percy Montgomery, John Smit and Victor Matfield in the 100 test club for South Africa.
Habana made a scoring debut against England at Twickenham back in 2004 and is South Africa's leading international try scorer with 56.
Much was expected from the Wallabies following the Waratahs superb Super Rugby win and the 12-12 draw against the All-Blacks in their opening clash in Sydney, however Ewen McKenzie's team were humbled 51-20 last time out at Eden Park.
Beale and White out
Misfiring half-backs Kurtley Beale and Nic White are the biggest casualties following their humiliating loss, as they are replaced by Bernard Foley and his Waratahs teammate Nick Phipps.
Former captain and lock James Horwill returns to the bench at the expense of the inexperienced Will Skelton after being omitted for the first two Tests, while the injured Nathan Charles has been replaced by James Hanson as starting hooker.
Pat McCabe's career ending neck injury allows Wallaby veteran Adam Ashley-Cooper to shift back to his preferred position on the wing, with Tevita Kuridrani slotting in at outside centre.
All Blacks host Argentina
In the weekend's other game, the powerful All Blacks host a much improved Argentina at McLean Park in Napier.
The world champions were outstanding last time out against the Wallabies and despite the Springboks sitting on top of the Rugby Championship table, few would argue that on what we have seen over the first two games, the All Blacks are head and shoulders above the rest.
In saying that, Argentina are vastly improved and will without doubt provide the All Black scrum with a severe test.
Argentina have reaped the rewards of spending nearly two months together at a training base in Florida and have begun this season's tournament with two performances that suggest they will be a real threat next year at the World Cup.
Their powerful forward play has really impressed, however this season they have also added plenty of skill and flair out wide which has resulted in far more try scoring opportunities for the Pumas.
Although an All Black win appears to be the only result possible come Saturday, don't expect the South Americans to be completely trampled like what happened to the Wallabies two weeks ago.
If Argentina's scrum can dominate New Zealand to the extent they did with the Springboks, then Richie McCaw's team could very well find themselves in unfamiliar territory.
AUSTRALIA V SOUTH AFRICA
AUSTRALIA: 15-Israel Folau, 14-Adam Ashley-Cooper, 13-Tevita Kuridrani, 12-Matt Toomua, 11-Rob Horne, 10-Bernard Foley, 9-Nick Phipps, 8-Wycliff Palu, 7-Michael Hooper (captain), 6-Scott Fardy, 5-Rob Simmons, 4-Sam Carter, 3-Sekope Kepu, 2-James Hanson, 1-James Slipper
Replacements: 16-Saia Faingaa, 17-Pek Cowan, 18-Ben Alexander, 19-James Horwill, 20-Scott Higginbotham, 21-Matt Hodgson, 22-Nic White, 23-Kurtley Beale
South Africa: 15-Willie le Roux; 14-Cornal Hendricks, 13-Jan Serfontein, 12-Jean de Villiers (captain), 11-Bryan Habana, 10-Morne Steyn, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 7-Marcell Coetzee, 6-Francois Louw, 5-Victor Matfield, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Adriaan Strauss, 1-Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16-Bismarck du Plessis, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Marcel van der Merwe, 19-Lood de Jager, 20-Warren Whiteley, 21-Francois Hougaard, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Damian de Allende
NEW ZEALAND V ARGENTINA
New Zealand: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Ben Smith, 13-Conrad Smith, 1- Ma'a Nonu, 11-Julian Savea, 10-Beauden Barrett, 9-Aaron Smith, 8-Kieran Reid, 7-Richie McCaw (captain), 6-Liam Messam, 5-Sam Whitelock, 4-Brodie Retallick, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Dane Coles, 1-Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16-Keven Mealamu, 17-Ben Franks, 18-Joe Moody, 19-Jeremy Thrush, 20 Sam Cane, 21-TJ Perenara, 22-Colin Slade, 23-Malakai Fekitoa.
Argentina: 15-Joaquín Tuculet, 14-Horacio Agulla, 13-Marcelo Bosch, 12-Juan Martín Hernández, 11-Lucas González Amorosino, 10-Nicolás Sánchez, 9-Martín Landajo, 8-Leonardo Senatore, 7-Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6-Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, 5-Tomás Lavanini, 4-Mariano Galarza, 3-Ramiro Herrera, 2-Agustín Creevy (captain), 1-Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16-Matías Cortese, 17-Lucas Noguera Paz,18-Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19-Matías Alemanno, 20-Rodrigo Báez, 21-Tomás Cubelli, 22-Santiago González Iglesias, 23-Juan Imhoff.
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