CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Experienced scrumhalf Francois Hougaard returns to South Africa’s starting line-up in place of injured Ross Cronje for their Rugby Championship fixture away to Argentina in Salta on Saturday.
Coach Allister Coetzee has otherwise kept faith with the match-day 23 that claimed a 37-15 victory over the same opposition in their tournament opener in Port Elizabeth last weekend.
“Francois has played a lot of test match rugby, his work ethic is second to none and he has been working hard up to now since joining the squad,” Coetzee said in a statement on Thursday.
He said he would likely use back-up scrumhalf Rudy Paige off the bench. “Rudy made a good impact in the third test against France (in June) and I expect the same from him this weekend.”
Cronje, who injured his ankle in Port Elizabeth, also missed that match against France, the last time 29-year-old Hougaard started for the Springboks.
Coetzee, who has spoken at length of his desire for continuity in his selections, added that competition for places in a team finding a richer vein of form after a disastrous 2016 was intense.
“The players outside of the match 23 squad are all knocking on the door and that is a great position to be in,” he said.
The Boks have won all four tests they have played in 2017 after losing eight of 12 last year. This will be their first fixture of the year outside of South Africa.
“This is going to be a different challenge but I have no doubt the players will benefit...,” Coetzee said.
“Our approach and preparation will be just the same as when we prepared for all our home tests... We must again show patience, hunger and the desire to execute our game plan.”
Both previous contests between the two sides in Salta, situated some 1,300 km (810 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires, have ended in narrow victories, one for each side.
The Boks edged matters 33-31 in 2014 while Argentina turned the tables last year.
The Pumas are themselves going through a rough patch, having won just two of the 12 tests they have played since that 26-24 win.
15-Andries Coetzee, 14-Raymond Rhule, 13-Jesse Kriel, 12-Jan Serfontein, 11-Courtnall Skosan, 10-Elton Jantjies, 9-Francois Hougaard, 8-Uzair Cassiem, 7-Jaco Kriel, 6-Siya Kolisi, 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Eben Etzebeth (captain), 3-Coenie Oosthuizen, 2-Malcolm Marx, 1-Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16-Bongi Mbonambi, 17-Steven Kitshoff, 18-Trevor Nyakane, 19-Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20-Jean-Luc du Preez, 21-Rudy Paige, 22-Curwin Bosch, 23-Damian de Allende.
Reporting By Nick Said; editing by John Stonestreet