Not since the epic 2013 Ellis Park Test against the All Blacks have the Springboks gone into the final round of the Rugby Championship with a chance to win it.
On Saturday in hostile Salta‚ the Boks would secure their first Rugby Championship in the current four-team format with a bonus point win over Argentina.
In 2013 the Boks needed to stop the All Blacks earning a bonus point‚ while winning the match with a bonus point themselves.
In the event neither happened with the All Blacks scoring a fourth-try to lock up the title midway through the second half before a late surge won the match.
This time the destiny of the title is in Rassie Erasmus’ side’s grasp regardless of what happens between Australia and New Zealand earlier in the day.
So despite some talk that the Rugby Championship is a tainted prize in a World Cup year‚ especially with its finale five weeks before the World Cup in Japan kicks-off‚ for the Boks winning is essential.
Firstly‚ it’s about momentum.
After beating the Wallabies in Johannesburg and drawing with the All Blacks in Wellington‚ the Boks are starting to build nicely. Another win would keep that trend positive.
Secondly‚ proving to themselves that they can win‚ what is essentially a final‚ is a perfect dress-rehearsal of what’s to come in Japan in the near future.
Saturday’s tango in Salta is as close to a World Cup knockout scenario as the Boks could hope for.
And finally‚ winning the Rugby Championship‚ truncated or not‚ is about adding a meaningful title to storied history of Bok rugby.
Over the past four years the only history the Boks have created is a succession of record defeats and unwanted firsts (such as losing to Italy and Japan). Just before the World Cup‚ lifting a trophy after such a torrid four-year cycle can only be positive.
To than end Erasmus has stuck largely to the side that took the All Blacks to the wire in Wellington.
He’s changed the entire front row this weekend but otherwise the personnel are settled. The three that sat on the bench in Wellington start in Salta and the Wellington starters move to the bench.
Tendai Mtawarira‚ Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane will start with Steven Kitshoff‚ Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe on the wood. It’s a strategic selection with very clear objectives.
“We were not great in the lineouts against the All Blacks‚ and the front row we have selected for this game was really good in the scrumming when they came on‚” Erasmus said.
“If we improve in those facets of the game‚ and in other facets of our play‚ then we stand a good chance. That is how you win the game‚ and that is how you win the Rugby Championship and the World Cup.
“If we look at the bigger picture and then lose sight of the smaller battles we will lose matches and not achieve what we want to.”
Erasmus has shown his hand after essentially indicating that this 23 is as close to his best and will be the ‘first’ team during the World Cup. Only flank Siya Kolisi and wing Aphiwe Dyantyi are likely to come into the frame before the World Cup.
Which means flank Kwagga Smith and wing Makazole Mapimpi could be playing for their World Cup places this weekend because it’s clear that several looseforwards and at least one wing are going to miss the final cut.
By keeping the same starting backline Erasmus has given his public backing to inside centre Damian de Allende.
Privately‚ the player knows where he stands but by selecting the same midfield combination Erasmus is telling the public to get used to the idea of seeing the often-maligned De Allende starting next to Lukhanyo Am.
Other than that slightly controversial selection‚ the rest of the side picks itself and fringe players such as scrumhalf Cobus Reinach‚ hooker Schalk Brits and wing Sbu Nkosi might have one final chance in a ‘friendly’’ against the Pumas in Pretoria next week.
Argentina haven’t won a match in this year’s tournament and desperately need to turn that statistic around with the World Cup so close. The return of hooker and former captain Agustin Creevy from injury is massive boost to that end.
Argentina: 15-Emiliano Boffelli‚ 14-Santiago Cordero‚ 13-Matias Moroni‚ 12-Jeronimo de la Fuente‚ 11-Ramiro Moyano‚ 10-Nicolas Sanchez‚ 9-Tomas Cubelli‚ 8-Facundo Isa‚ 7-Javier Ortega Desio‚ 6-Pablo Matera (captain)‚ 5-Marcos Kremer‚ 4-Matias Alemanno‚ 3-Juan Figallo‚ 2-Agustin Creevy‚ 1-Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Reserves: 16-Julian Montoya‚ 17-Mayco Vivas‚ 18-Santiago Medrano‚ 19-Guido Petti‚ 20-Tomas Lezana‚ 21-Gonzalo Bertanou‚ 22-Ben Urdapilleta‚ 23-Joaquin Tuculet.
South Africa: 15-Willie le Roux‚ 14-Cheslin Kolbe‚ 13-Lukhanyo Am‚ 12-Damian de Allende‚ 11-Makazole Mapimpi‚ 10-Handre Pollard‚ 9-Faf de Klerk‚ 8-Duane Vermeulen (captain)‚ 7-Pieter Steph du Toit‚ 6-Kwagga Smith‚ 5-Franco Mostert‚ 4-Eben Etzebeth‚ 3-Trevor Nyakane‚ 2-Bongi Mbonambi‚ 1-Tendai Mtawarira
Reserves: 16-Malcolm Marx‚ 17-Steven Kitshoff‚ 18-Frans Malherbe‚ 19-RG Snyman‚ 20-Francois Louw‚ 21-Herschel Jantjies‚ 22-Frans Steyn‚ 23-Jesse Kriel