AFP PHOTO

South Africa skipper Duane Vermeulen called struggling Argentina a “fantastic” team ahead of a Test in Salta Saturday that will bring the curtain down on the 2019 Rugby Championship.

The Springboks need a bonus-point victory to be sure of winning the competition for the first time and if they slip up, trophy-holders New Zealand or Australia could overtake them.

Australia host New Zealand in a Perth showdown, which doubles as the first leg of the Bledisloe Cup, 10 hours before the kick-off in northwestern city Salta.

South Africa have seven points after two rounds, New Zealand six, Australia four and Argentina are out of contention with only two, earned through losing bonus points.

But Vermeulen, a stand-in skipper while fellow loose forward Siya Kolisi regains fitness, insists battling Argentina “are a fantastic team who play really well in front of their home crowd.

“I know they will come at us with everything they have and we must just be prepared for what is coming.

“We believe a full house is expected and we know from experience that Argentine crowds play a major role in motivating the Pumas.

“Those supporters make visiting teams feel they are playing against 16 men rather than 15,” the 33-year-old skipper said Friday after an eve-of-Test training run.

“Hopefully, we can focus on what we need to do, try and take the crowd out of the equation and work toward our goals.

“The Pumas are really good in the lineouts, play a quick tempo game and are also able to stop rolling mauls.”

– Attack weapon –

The Springboks, who once scored numerous tries off rolling mauls, have not been able to use that attack weapon as effectively this season.

While cynics may view the praise of Vermeulen and coach Rassie Erasmus earlier in the week as mind games, the Pumas have won two of the last three home Tests against the Springboks.

The South Americans triumphed by two points in a 2016 Salta thriller and after losing at the same venue the following year, won convincingly in Mendoza last season.

South Africa have also struggled at times in the lineouts and Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert will face a new Argentine partnership of Matias Alemanno and Marcos Kremer.

They replace Guido Petti, who has dropped to the bench, and Tomas Lavanini as coach Mario Ledesma changed five of the side beaten by Australia in Brisbane last month.

Inspirational hooker Agustin Creevy returns in place of Julian Montoya after a shoulder injury ruled him out of the Wallabies Test.

In another change to the pack, Javier Ortega Desio comes into the back row for Tomas Lezana, who will be among the eight replacements.

Fit-again Emiliano Boffelli returns at full-back with Joaquin Tuculet becoming another of the Brisbane starters who will sit on the bench at the Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena.

After drawing in New Zealand, South Africa have changed their front two with veteran Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira, Bongi Mbonambi and Trevor Nyakane promoted.