By Rex Gowar
The Rugby World Cup third-place playoff is often regarded by teams as a match too far but South Africa and Argentina have good reason to try to end the year on a winning note.
The Pumas meet the Springboks at the Olympic Stadium in east London on Friday (10pm) looking to beat them for the second time in less than three months and first at a World Cup after their 37-13 defeat in the 2007 semi-final.
Argentina beat South Africa for the first time ever in a Rugby Championship match in Durban, winning 37-25 in August and they can expect a second backlash from a virtually full strength Springbok side.
The Springboks avenged that defeat by beating the Pumas 26-12 in their final World Cup warm-up in Buenos Aires a week later and now want to rebound from their 20-18 semi-final loss to New Zealand at Twickenham last weekend.
Under-pressure South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer knows he can ill-afford another defeat in a year when he has already lost five Test matches including their World Cup opener to Japan.
Demoralised by the semi-final loss to the All Blacks, he has selected his strongest possible side with scrumhalf Fourie du Preez unavailable through injury and replaced by Ruan Pienaar.
Lock Victor Matfield will play his 127th and last game for the Springboks as captain with impressive youngster Lood de Jager dropping to the bench.
“This is a critical match for us and we owe it to ourselves and our supporters to end the season on a high note,” Meyer said on Wednesday.
“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.”
Argentina have lost four leading players to injury from the bruising 29-15 semi-final defeat by Australia, with captain Agustin Creevy, centre Juan Martin Hernandez, wing Juan Imhoff and fullback Joaquin Tuculet all ruled out.
Coach Daniel Hourcade has made nine changes to a team in which some veterans of the 2007 World Cup could be making their last Pumas appearance.
“We know some are likely never to play again, not just at a World Cup but also for the Pumas,” he said. “Each one of them will be emotionally charged up and we hope that will be a plus.”
Hourcade said Argentina knew they were going to face a stiff physical challenge.
“We must try to make them feel uncomfortable in close contact, tackle low, try to get quick ball out at the breakdown.
“This is as important as any other match and to reach the podium is a dream so we’re going out to try and get there.”
South Africa: 1-Tendai Mtawarira, 2-Bismarck du Plessis, 3-Frans Malherbe, 4-Eben Etzebeth, 5-Victor Matfield (captain), 6-Francois Louw, 7-Schalk Burger, 8-Duane Vermeulen, 9-Ruan Pienaar, 10-Handre Pollard, 11-Bryan Habana, 12-Damian De Allende, 13-Jesse Kriel, 14-JP Pietersen, 15-Willie le Roux.
Replacements: 16-Adriaan Strauss, 17-Trevor Nyakane, 18-Jannie du Plessis, 19-Lood de Jager, 20-Willem Alberts, 21-Rudy Paige, 22-Pat Lambie, 23-Jan Serfontein
Argentina: 1-Marcos Ayerza, 2-Julian Montoya, 3-Ramiro Herrera, 4-Matias Alemanno, 5-Tomas Lavanini, 6-Javier Ortega Desio, 7-Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 8-Juan Manuel Leguizamon; 9-Tomas Cubelli, 10-Nicolas Sanchez (captain), 11-Horacio Agulla, 12-Jeronimo de la Fuente, 13-Matias Moroni, 14-Santiago Cordero, 15-Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino
Replacements: 16-Lucas Noguera, 17-Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18-Juan Figallo, 19-Guido Petti, 20-Facundo Isa, 21-Martin Landajo, 22-Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23-Juan Pablo Socino.