It is a test and it will be played as one, but for virtually all the participating players the clash between the Springboks and the Pumas at Loftus on Saturday (kick-off 17:05) will essentially be one of individual interest.
The reason? However hard the match will be played, the reality is that both coaches will use it as a last chance to weigh up their World Cup options. Yes, once again caps will be awarded to players who are not necessarily the best in their positions, but tradition is long gone in test rugby and the reality is that there is a World Cup to be won.
There are some of the country’s very best, injured and in a race against time. They won’t have this match opportunity and will have to rely on the gut-feel of South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus for selection to Japan.
Here one thinks of particularly Aphiwe Dyantyi, star of last year’s turn-around campaign who is close to fitness but not quite; and Damian Willemse, a long-time favourite for the fullback/flyhalf positions. He came on as a replacement for Western Province in the second half against Griquas, looked sharp and brought immediate pace and go-forward to the WP side.
Not one of South Africa’s starting side for Saturday’s test was in the side that started against the Pumas in Salta last weekend – and only five of that match’s starting line-up will be on the Argentinian side at kick-off time. What’s more, of those five three will be playing in different positions than last Saturday.
The Springboks will be vying for the remaining positions.
The following 19 the players who played in Salta will not be playing on Saturday and seem assured of their World Cup places:
Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi and Handré Pollard
Duane Vermeulen, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Franco Mostert, Eben Etzebeth, Trevor Nyakane, Bongi Mbonambi, Beast Mtawarira, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, RG Snyman, Francois Louw and Herschel Jantjies.
Siya Kolisi, although he will have only a short spell on the park on Saturday, is also a certainty if he is passed fit
Add to these 20 players another four, Faf de Klerk, Kwagga Smith, Frans Steyn and Jesse Kriel who played in Salta but are on the bench for the Loftus test and who seem assured of selection, and also Snyman who starts on Saturday although only coming on as a replacement in Salta (included as a certain selection above)..
That it leaves seven more places.
They will come from Saturday’s match-23 minus De Klerk, Smith, Steyn, Kriel and Kolisi and also Snyman.
Undoubtedly Erasmus, after working with the players form an extended period, will not be swayed by a single brilliant performance, but will rather look to the candidates to confirm that they meet his requirements or not.
The 17 who will try to impress are:
Warrick Gelant, S’bu Nkosi, André Esterhuizen, Dillyn Leyds, Elton Jantjies, Cobus Reinach
Marcell Coetzee, Rynhardt Elstadt, Lood de Jager, Vincent Koch, Schalk Brits, Thomas du Toit, Scarra Ntubeni, Lizo Gqoboka, Wilco Louw, Marvin Orie and Marco van Staden.
Erasmus sent nine of the players back to South Africa before the very good 46-13 win against Argentina in Salta to be ready for the Loftus test. This in itself should give the Boks the edge, added to a sweltering hot day in Pretoria and the altitude.
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Marcell Coetzee, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 RG Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits (captain), 1 Thomas du Toit. Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Kwagga Smith,
22 Faf de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn.
15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Sebastián Cancelliere, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Lucas Mensa, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Felipe Ezcurra, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas. Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)