Argentina’s chances are extremely limited because they would need to defeat South Africa by a bonus point and hope that Australia defeats New Zealand by a non-bonus point, with the All Blacks not scoring a losing bonus point.
Even if that unusual series of results occurs, Los Pumas would require a massive swing in points differential to top the final table, which in certain circumstances would see all four teams finish on 14 points.
On the other hand, South Africa will have a clear vision of what they need to do to win the Rugby Championship by the time this match begins.
The Springboks enter the weekend trailing New Zealand at the top of the table just on points differential. With the All Blacks playing Australia earlier in the day, South Africa will know precisely what they need to accomplish to finish first.
If New Zealand fails to win by a bonus point at Eden Park, South Africa’s result will suffice, but if the All Blacks win by a maximum of five points, it will come down to a points difference.
South Africa currently trails New Zealand by 13 points in that count, which means they would need to beat Argentina by 14 more points than New Zealand beat Australia. However, if that tally also finishes level, it would come down to the two teams’ head-to-head record, which South Africa narrowly leads.
Jacques Nienaber, head coach of the Springboks, has stated that his team is purely focused on winning the match rather than the number of points they may require, comparing the match to a “World Cup final” for his team.
The hesitation to get too far ahead stems partly from the reality that Argentina has been as much to blame as any other team for the battle for Southern Hemisphere supremacy being closer than ever this year.
Michael Cheika’s men lead the table at the midway point of the competition after a historic victory over Australia and New Zealand. Still, back-to-back defeats by the All Blacks and South Africa have seen them tumble back to the bottom.
Even if Los Pumas have to prop up the rest of the pack again this year, they will look back on a successful Rugby Championship season that brought some unforgettable moments and plenty of optimism ahead of the World Cup next year.
Argentina again showed their tenacity last week, recovering from a first half that Cheika described as “one of the worst” he can recall, as his team was fortunate to go into the break only 22-6 behind due to a succession of penalties conceded.
At one point, Los Pumas rallied to within 22-20, only for two late South African tries to give the Boks a critical bonus-point victory 36-20.
Rerunning the world champions close on South African turf will be an even more difficult assignment for Argentina this weekend. Still, their victory against New Zealand in Christchurch gives them hope and means they cannot be written off ahead of this.
South Africa’s lack of fly halves was exacerbated last week when Damian Willemse suffered a head injury, ruling him out of this match owing to concussion protocols.
With Handre Pollard also missing and Elton Jantjies being sent home following charges of off-field behavior, Francois Steyn, 35, will start this match at fly-half.
The veteran’s inclusion in the starting XV is one of only two changes from the previous weekend’s victory, with Pieter Steph du Toit replacing Franco Mostert.
Kurt-Lee Arendse, the team’s suspended winger, is back on the bench, one of two backs among the replacements as Nienaber goes with a forward-heavy bench.
Argentina has similarly made only two changes to their starting lineup, with Cheika sticking with the team that lost last weekend.
Juan Imhoff takes over for Lucio Cinti on the left flank, while Matias Moroni replaces Matias Orlando at the outside center.
The visitors have picked an unchanged starting lineup, with the uncapped Pedro Rubiolo on the bench.
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South Africa Predictable starting lineup: 15 Willie le Roux; 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi; 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Jaden Hendrikse; 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche, Vincent Koch, Franco Mostert, Duane Vermeulen, Kwagga Smith, Faf de Klerk, Kurt-Lee Arendse
Argentina Predictable starting lineup: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia; 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff; 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou; 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Mayco Vivas, Joel Sclavi, Guido Petti, Pedro Rubiolo, Tomas Cubelli, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Bautista Delguy