Eben Etzebeth’s Springboks must make a statement of intent against the Pumas in Port Elizabeth to ensure the momentum of the French series win is not lost.
Equally they simply have to get a home winning start to the Castle Rugby Championship.
The task to subdue the visitors will be more difficult because of the absence of specialist tightheads Ruan Dreyer and Frans Malherbe, The former was always unavailable for Saturday but Malherbe was ruled out on Monday.
The Eastern Cape rugby public also has a chance to make a statement that the friendly city has the potential to become the rugby capital of South Africa.
Test matches in recent times have seduced the Eastern Cape rugby public. They’ve filled the Mandela Bay Stadium in support of some very good Springbok victories, most notably against the All Blacks in 2011.
The crowd support was also influential as the Boks a year ago hung on for a win and a series deciding victory against the Irish.
Now the Springboks have to give back to this Eastern Cape support base through performance in Saturday’s opening round of the Rugby Championship.
The Springboks have momentum because of the crushing three-nil series win against the French. They have goodwill on their side, as is evident with their interaction with the locals over the last week.
Now they must win well on Saturday.
The Pumas command respect because in recent seasons they have troubled the Springboks. The Argentine contingent hasn’t been as much of a threat against the All Blacks or Australia but it’s their physicality that has troubled the Boks, especially in the last two seasons. The Pumas beat the Springboks in Durban in 2015 and were a few minutes away from victory in South Africa a year ago.
The Pumas also beat the Springboks in Argentina in 2016.
The Jaquares, the Pumas in another guise in Super Rugby, were also the team that troubled the in-form Lions the most. The Jaguares beat the Lions in 2016 and 2017 in Argentina and this year were within a score of a famous win in Johannesburg.
The visitors certainly won’t be underestimated.
Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has stated that he will initially invest in the players who won South Africa the series against France. Coetzee has repeatedly told the media that a player must play himself out of the team. Coetzee was defending the exclusion of form Super Rugby players, notably the Lions duo of Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Ruan Combrinck.
Given Coetzee’s endorsement of the incumbents the only likely changes from the last Bok victory will come at No 8. Coetzee was forced into a late selection when injury curtailed Warren Whiteley captaincy and season a day before the final Test against France.
Whiteley is still injured and Jean-Luc du Preez, who started at No 8, is likely to switch to No 7. The whispers from those close to the squad are that Cheetahs loose-forward Uzair Cassiem will start at No 8. Siya Kolisi and (Jean-Luc) du Preez are favoured to complete the loose-trio with Lions captain Jaco Kriel again relegated to the role of impact player.
Whatever the make up of the Springboks match 23 the expectation has to be of a convincing win.
The Springboks are stronger than they were a season ago and more settled. The win will have to be earned in Port Elizabeth but the expectation must be that the prospect of the win should not be in doubt.