Defending champions South Africa will send wing Makazole Mapimpi for scans on a fracture to his cheekbone in the wake of Sunday’s 49-18 victory over Tonga that took them to the brink of a Rugby World Cup quarter-final place. After the match, South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber revealed that Mapimpi suffered a blow to his face when he clashed heads with tackler Augustine Pulu in an incident reviewed by the Television Match Official but not sanctioned with a yellow card.
The injury could prove a significant setback for the Boks, who will be anxious to get to grips with a game against Argentina on Saturday in Buenos Aires that will decide whether they top Pool B and make the playoffs or finish second.
It was a spirited performance from the Pacific Islanders, who never gave up and kept throwing everything at the South Africans. However, the Boks made plenty of mistakes and struggled to convert opportunities in the red zone.
But the Boks will take heart from the fact that they have a strong enough squad to cope with the loss of Mapimpi. Centers Andre Esterhuizen and Canan Moodie can step up, while wing Kurt-Lee Arendse can burn past defenders who sin, giving him too much space.
South Africa will fly directly to Buenos Aires without returning home from Sydney and can look forward to a weekend of rest if they make the knock-out stages. That could prove crucial if the Boks cannot overcome their COVID-19 hangover in a game against a team that boasts an excellent defensive record at this tournament.
The Boks will have to be precise in their half of the pitch against the Pumas as they attempt to exploit the ruck and gain ground in a physical battle in a stadium that is notorious for producing fast-paced and skillful rugby. That means the Boks must be at their best in the breakdown, where they have struggled this tournament.
South Africa captain Siya Kolisi will also hope to prove he can lead his side without the injured Jonathan Sexton. The Leinster flyhalf’s rant against the referees after losing 13-8 to Ireland in Paris will have been a painful reminder of the importance of having a fit and healthy first-five at their disposal.
Kolisi will start at scrumhalf alongside Handre Pollard and flanker Bongi Mbonambi. Loosehead Ox Nche and hooker Damian de Allende will also start, ending speculation that the captain and many of his teammates would be unavailable for their opening match vs the British and Irish Lions on Saturday because of positive Covid-19 results and self-isolation in recent weeks. The Boks have two more group games to come against Australia and Argentina. Those victories will be enough to ensure they qualify for the playoffs. They are not the only contenders, though, with England, Wales, and Ireland all fighting for a top-two spot in their pools.