(Reuters) – Argentina’s new dawn under coach Mario Ledesma, reflected in a best-ever Super Rugby return this year, gets a further examination on Saturday as the Pumas host South Africa in the Rugby Championship in Mendoza.
The meeting in the heart of Argentina’s wine producing area is an opportunity for the hosts to make a bold statement about their potential for next year’s World Cup as well as their progress in the four-nation southern hemisphere competition.
This year Argentina’s Super Rugby representatives the Jaguares – more or less the national side in disguise – qualified for the playoffs under Ledesma and won all their matches in Australia and New Zealand.
But five of their eight losses were against South African sides and they battled to contain the physical Springboks in last weekend’s tournament opening 34-21 loss in Durban, where a more clinical home side would have secured victory by a greater margin.
Former national team hooker Ledesma has attempted to add fire to his pack with a return for lock Tomas Lavanini, who last year set a national team record of six yellow cards with some at times overly robust play.
But it is that fire that Ledesma feels is needed to try and disrupt the powerful Bok forwards, who were dominant in Durban.
Uncapped French-based hooker Facundo Bosch will be among the replacements as cover for veteran captain Agustin Creevy.
After promising rotation of players earlier in the week, Boks coach Rassie Erasmus has also made just one change to his starting XV with a return for lock Franco Mostert in place of Pieter-Steph du Toit.
South Africa have rich pickings in the second row with RG Snyman among the replacements, while Du Toit will cover both lock and loose-forward from the bench.
Erasmus says his side are in for a tougher challenge in Ledesma’s first home game in charge.
“It has always been tough there (Argentina),” Erasmus told reporters. “We got five points out of the first game and we’re in the mix now, so if we scrape through a win then we’ll be in this Rugby Championship.
“As desperate as they’re going to be to try and turn it around, we’re as desperate to win.”
Argentina have won three of their last 24 tests, with those victories coming against Georgia, Japan and Italy.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)