Preview: Argentina v South Africa

The one World Cup match nobody wanted to play when the tournament kicked off takes place on Friday when Argentina face South Africa at London's Olympic Stadium.

Two coaches in very different situations face the challenge of lifting their respective sides from the massive disappointment of semi-final defeat for a full-blooded Test match against high-quality opposition.

For Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade, the task should be a touch easier than his South African counterpart Heyneke Meyer.

With all due respect, and considering their history, third-place at the World Cup – matching their heroics of eights years ago in France – would be a wonderful result for los Pumas, who have been one of the most positive stories of the 2015 tournament. 

Playing an attractive brand of rugby, they – along with Japan – have caught the imagination of neutral fans and their demolition of Ireland will go down as one of the great World Cup performances. Their transformation into a team that can play with width and variation is a credit to Hourcade, who must be in the running for coach of the year.  

After the semi-final loss to the Wallabies, Hourcade left no doubt that his team would have no trouble motivating themselves for this game. They've tasted disappointment before, and are easily able to harness their natural passion for the jersey. A bronze medal is a carrot they can proudly chase.

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Meyer finds himself in a far more difficult spot. Although he made a concerted effort to backtrack on Wednesday, in the heat of the moment after losing to the All Blacks last weekend Meyer called this game "meaningless". In the coach's own words, the Springboks could never be happy about competing for third place but a demanding South Africa public will not take another loss well. 

Column inches in the Republic this week have been dominated by the debate over whether Meyer should have his contract extended. Having already suffered an historic defeat to the Pumas on home soil this year, the infamous loss to Japan meant that if the Boks failed to go all the way at the World Cup, it was always going to be difficult for Meyer to keep his job. 

Defeat on Friday may well be the final nail in Meyer's international coaching coffin, irrespective of his desire to continue working with the young prospects in this team.

"This is a critical match for us and we owe it to ourselves and our supporters to end the season on a high note," said Meyer. 

"The Pumas have made massive strides in recent years and we've experienced first-hand how tough an opponent they can be. The players realise that they will have to lift themselves for one final push on Friday to ensure that South African rugby goes into the off season on a winning note.

"I considered fielding a much-changed team and weighed the pros and cons but ultimately decided the team that has grown together over the past few weeks was the one with the best chance of delivering victory for our supporters."

"When you are South African and a Springbok only the best will be good enough. But saying that, whenever you put a Bok jersey on, even if it is a friendly, you are still representing your country, you are still representing the hopes and dreams of your country, so it is a great responsibility.

"I can't say in words what it means to be the Springbok coach."

For both sides, there will be the added motivation of wanting to give a winning send-off to a few long-time servants who will retire after the World Cup. Keeping emotions in check and remaining focussed will be a challenge. 

Team news: Argentina head coach Daniel Hourcade has been forced to make nine changes to the starting line-up that lost 29-15 to Australia in the semi-finals. There are four changes in the forwards and five in the backs as the decimated Pumas are without playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez, captain Agustin Creevy and try-scoring winger Juan Imhoff. 

For South Africa, Victor Matfield replaces Lood de Jager as one of only two changes to the Springbok starting line-up from Saturday’s semi-final against New Zealand. He takes over the over the captaincy from the injured Fourie du Preez, whose place in the number nine jersey is taken by Ruan Pienaar with Rudy Paige coming onto the bench.

Players to watch:

For Argentina: At the heart of everything the Pumas have done well over the better part of a decade has been Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. The Toulon back rower, who will be 34 next month, is reaching the end of his Test career but his contribution at the breakdown remains key. Argentina were beaten there by Australia last week and against another outstanding loose trio, his role could be pivotal. 

For South Africa: In his fourth and final Rugby World Cup, Springbok skipper Victor Matfield – South Africa's most capped player – will play his last game in green and gold. The target of much criticism back home, Matfield will need to put in a big performance or risk seeing the patchy end of his career overshadow the brilliant years of his heyday, in similar fashion to John Smit. The Boks lost four lineouts against New Zealand, and with the setpiece ever important when facing los Pumas, Matfield's return to the starting XV could be influential.  

Head-to-head: Key to Argentina's victory in Durban earlier this year was their domination of the scrums, where Marcos Ayerza was in devastating form. Ayerza  is a late withdrawal but his replacement, Juan Figallo is a top quality scrummager. South Africa have a new tighthead this time in Frans Malherbe, but the 24-year-old is still very inexperienced by comparison to the man he will be pushing against. If Malherbe can give the Boks a steady base, they will seriously blunt the Pumas' threat.

Previous results:
2005: South Africa won 26-12 in Buenos Aires  
2015: Argentina won 37-25 in Durban
2014: South Africa won 33-31 in Salta
2014: South Africa won 13-6 in Pretoria
2013: South Africa won 22-17 in Mendoza
2013: South Africa won 73-13 in Soweto
2012: Draw 16-16 in Mendoza
2012: South Africa won 27-6 in Cape Town
2008: South Africa won 63-9 in Johannesburg
2007: South Africa won 37-13 in Paris (RWC)
2005: South Africa won 34-23 in Buenos Aires 

Prediction: Only once before have South Africa and Argentina met in a RWC tournament. In 2007 South Africa won 37-13 in their semi-final at the Stade de France. It'll be much closer this time. Argentina have been in great form but considering their long list of absentees, they might fall short. South Africa by six points.

The teams:

Argentina (revised): 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolás Sánchez (c), 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Juan Figallo.
Replacements: 16 Lucas Noguera, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Santiago Garcia Botta, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Lodewyk de Jager, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Date: Friday, October 30
Venue: Olympic Park, London
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Television match official: Graham Hughes

By Ross Hastie