SALTA, Argentina, Aug 25 – South Africa will wear red for the first time in their 126-year existence when they play in Argentina on Saturday, hoping to extend an encouraging four-victory start to the season.
The change from the traditional green and gold or second-choice white is to celebrate 25 years of rugby unity in a country where the sport was run on racial lines during apartheid.
All the national flag colours — black, blue, green, red, white and yellow — will have been used either in playing or training kit after the kick-off in northwestern city Salta.
Springbok supporters hope it will be a red-letter day for a team that has battled in previous Rugby Championship visits to South America.
South Africa have won twice, drawn once and lost once, with the widest victory margin for the twice former world champions a mere five points.
Most of these struggles have come after convincing home victories, similar to the 37-15 success achieved by the Springboks over the Pumas in Port Elizabeth last Saturday.
Powerful Coenie Oosthuizen-inspired scrumming laid the foundations for a convincing victory that followed a 3-0 home Test series whitewash of below-par France.
The four victories came after a horror debut season for coach Allister Coetzee in which his team lost a calendar-year record eight Tests of 12.
“The team must banish from their minds the idea that we are always going to struggle in Argentina,” stressed lock Eben Etzebeth, standing in as skipper for injured Warren Whiteley.
“We need to prepare well, get our mindset right and believe we can go there and win.”
The 20,000-capacity Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, with its small pitch and passionate supporters, has not been a happy hunting ground for the Springboks,
They snatched a 33-31 victory in 2014 and lost away to Argentina for the first time last year, failing 26-24 with Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias slotting the decisive late penalty.
In an effort to avoid a morale-deflating loss ahead of potentially much tougher matches in Australia nad New Zealand, Coetzee changed his pre-match plan from last year.
Instead of flying to Argentina at the beginning of the week, they continued training in South Africa and arrived in Salta less than two days before the match.
“As with previous Tests this year, we must show patience, hunger and a desire to execute our game plan,” stressed Coetzee.
He believes in continuity and the only change to the starting line-up from last weekend was injury enforced with scrum-half Francois Hougaard replacing Ross Cronje.
Rudy Paige takes the place of Hougaard, who plays for English Premiership club Worcester Warriors, in an otherwise unchanged bench.
The unhappiness of Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade is reflected in six changes to the team that started in South Africa, although two are injury related.
Regular half-backs Nicolas Sanchez (fly) and Martin Landajo (scrum) drop to the bench with experienced pair Juan Martin Hernandez and Tomas Cubelli taking over.
Injuries rule out loosehead prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and number eight Leonardo Senatore and their places go to Lucas Noguera and Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
Matias Alemanno takes over from Guido Petti at lock and Ramiro Herrera comes in as tighthead prop with Enrique Pieretto dropping to the bench.
“We have to secure the ball and hold on to it,” emphasised Hourcade. “We cannot spend most of the match defending, as we did in South Africa.”