Mendoza was almost like the big unknown to most members of the Springbok squad when they arrived here on Monday morning, but this charming Argentinean city and her wonderful citizens soon made the Boks feel more than welcome.
Team Manager Ian Schwartz, Adriaan Strauss, Ruan Pienaar and Adriaan Strauss were all members of the SA U21 team that won the IRB U21 World Championship in Mendoza in 2005, while Heyneke Meyer and a few of his fellow coaches toured here in 2003 with the Vodacom Bulls.
For the rest, if was a new experience, keeping in mind only Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana had played Test rugby in Argentina before.
And what a great surprise. From the brilliant reception at the airport, where hordes of people came to welcome the Boks, to the excellent service at the hotel to the thousands that rocked up at the Chacras Rugby Club for training sessions, it’s been a memorable week.
Apart from the usual hard work the guys put in on the training pitch, they were also guests at a number of functions, including a very special visit to the Office of the Governor of Mendoza, Mr Paco Perez, after the training session on Wednesday afternoon, as well as a lovely breakfast function hosted by South Africa’s Ambassador to Argentina, Mr Tony Leon.
On Friday morning the Springbok coaching staff hosted a seminar with almost 50 local schools, club and provincial coaches at a city hotel where they shared their thinking into trends in the game today and thereby helping to uplift the game in Argentina.
“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’m sure this is a tour we won’t forget soon,” said Springbok coach Meyer.
“It’s clear that the Argentineans have embraced its inclusion in The Castle Rugby Championship and that they are set on making an impression of the field and off it. They were tough opponents last weekend in Cape Town and we’re expecting a step up in intensity on Saturday as well.
“But the players have worked hard this week and we can now start focusing on the Test, which will not be easy. We were very happy with the result in Cape Town and now we need to improve in a number of areas.
“People forget that last year at the Rugby World Cup, even New Zealand could only score three two against the Pumas in Auckland in their quarter-final. They are definitely not to be underestimated.”
The good news for the Boks was that Bryan Habana (ankle), Marcell Coetzee (groin) and Andries Bekker (ankle) all passed fitness tests and were included in the team for Saturday’s Test. Bring it on!