DURBAN (Reuters) – Argentina’s muscular pack will present an excellent test of South Africa’s front-row form according to Springbok forwards coach Matt Proudfoot as the teams prepare to meet in their Rugby Championship opener at King’s Park on Saturday.
The Boks have already stated ahead of the southern hemisphere championship that they will test multiple players in various positions before the World Cup in Japan next year, and the forward challenge posed by Argentina will be an important part of their build-up.
South Africa’s Player of the Year Malcolm Marx, who missed the 2-1 home series win against England in June through injury, is almost certain to start at hooker, but Proudfoot wants to create competition and depth in the position with Bongi Mbonambi and Akker van der Merwe the other two options in the squad.
“If you look at (loosehead props) Steven Kitshoff and Beast (Tendai Mtawarira), and the decision over which one starts and which one comes off the bench, we are getting there with our hookers too,” Proudfoot told reporters.
“The process is to create that level where we have two or three guys for every position and that come World Cup time it will put us in a better position.”
While Marx is the number one choice, Proudfoot said Mbonambi and van der Merwe were promising back-ups, who may be short on test experience, but not ability.
Mbonambi has 16 test caps, but just three starts, while the more mobile Van der Merwe has won all of his three caps off the bench, which led to call-ups to the squad for veterans Bismark du Plessis and Schalk Brits in the series against England.
“The two test matches we won in June with Bongi (starting) and I thought he showed his quality there,” Proudfoot added.
“It is also exciting for me to work with a player like Akker, someone who is just a little bit different to the other two.”
Proudfoot said that facing Argentina, a historically renowned scrummaging unit now coached by former national team hooker Mario Ledesma, would be an important challenge and benchmark for his team.
“When you play against a tough opposition like Argentina, that is exactly the environment you want to test your guys in,” said Proudfoot.
“Especially up front, it is probably one of the ultimate tests for a pack of forwards. You know if a guy comes through against Argentina, he can make it.”
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)