JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Aug 17 – History-making captain Siya Kolisi gets a new role in Durban Saturday when South Africa hope to justify being favourites by beating Argentina in a Rugby Championship first round match.
Coach ‘Rassie’ Erasmus has switched the first black Test skipper of the Springboks from the openside to the blindside of a back row completed by Francois Louw and Warren Whiteley.
Kolisi operated as a openside loose forward while leading his country to a 2-1 series triumph over England in June, but many believe he can be more effective as a blindside.
“I have always thought that Siya was a stronger counter-rucker than a fetcher. With his lineout ability, he is an excellent option as a blindside flanker,” said Erasmus.
The coach believes the forward can lift his game to another level in the Rugby Championship, which kicks off Saturday in Sydney, where Australia confront title-holders New Zealand.
“Now that all the media attention about him getting the captaincy has died down, Siya should be more comfortable and striving to raise the level of his performances.
“He has gone through a very emotional start to the international season. Siya handled it all very well, but there were an awful lot of emotion swirling around.”
While Kolisi hopes to carry the ball more and be competitive at the rucks, experienced Louw has been tasked with resuming his role of a ‘scavenger’ having missed the England series.
Erasmus is excited about his forwards with hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Eben Etzebeth and number eight Whiteley all returning after being sidelined by injuries.
Whiteley last wore the green and gold 14 months ago and Etzebeth nine months ago while a Super Rugby injury prevented Marx, rated the best hooker in the world, facing England.
“We are blessed in having so many great forwards to choose from,” boasts Erasmus, himself a former Springbok flanker and the skipper of the national team on one occasion.
– ‘Mixing and matching’ –
“It is a long time since we have had so many good hookers, props and locks to choose from. We are experimenting in the back row, mixing and matching at this stage.”
Former Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma debuts as national coach having taken the Buenos Aires-based Jaguares to the Super Rugby play-offs for the first time this year.
It has been a meteoric rise for a coach who was working in Australia last year, and his greatest immediate concern is plugging a Pumas defence that has been leaking tries.
“When Argentine rugby players are on top, they are dangerous and score. However, when they are under the coach, they conceded far too many points.
“I was fortunate to represent my country many times as a player and now I am proud to be captain of the ship,” he said.
His task is mammoth with the Pumas losing 22 of 28 internationals since finishing fourth at the 2015 World Cup.
Daniel Hourcade, the architect of the impressive World Cup showing, quit two months ago after three straight home losses to weakened Wales and Scotland sides.
The same Argentines who had starred in Super Rugby with Jaguares — including two victories in New Zealand — were woeful during the mid-year Tests.
Ledesma will look especially to full-back Emiliano Boffelli, winger Bautista Delguy and fly-half Nicolas Sanchez among the backs for inspirational performances.
Skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy, tighthead prop Juan Figallo and flanker Pablo Matera are the standout forwards for the Pumas, who have beaten the Springboks just twice in 26 meetings.
But one of those successes came in Durban with Juan Imhoff scoring a hat-trick of tries in a stunning 37-25 triumph three years ago.