Hang tight on those 'macho sensibilities'
Although the first year of professionalism, 1996, was embraced in New Zealand and South Africa, Argentina largely chose to ignore it. The Springboks trained on polo fields and at country clubs and they won both Test matches comfortably.
In the first of those Tests just 16 000 people attended the Ferrocarril Oeste stadium in Buenos Aires and Toks van der Linde made history, becoming the first official Springbok substitute. Until this time, replacements were only supposed to be allowed on the field to replace injured players, but the International Rugby Board recognised that coaches were looking for excuses to get fatigued or underperforming players off.
Accordingly, when Van der Linde took over from a spent Dawie Theron, it was as the first "super sub". Van der Linde said: "I was just told to go out there and do some damage." And he did. It was also Van der Linde who christened Mendoza when the mid-week side alighted from the two-hour internal flight. "Upington. It looks like Upington," he said. But Upington is not charmingly placed in the foothills of the Andes and it is not known for its wine estates.
Mendoza is the home town of Freddy Mendez, the former Pumas hooker, and it was his celebrity that persuaded the Argentine Rugby Union to allow the tourists to play Cuyo, Mendez's home province. It was a game large on hospitality – champagne was served in the press box – and small on competitiveness. The Boks won 89-19 and Breyton Paulse marked his debut in the green and gold with four tries.
If you had asked any of those present that day whether they thought a Test match between Argentina and South Africa might occur in the same town just 16 years later, you would have been greeted with disbelieving nods of the head and an invitation to have another glass of wine. And yet, 50 000 people are expected to attend as the Pumas play their first home international as new members of the top table, not in bustling Buenos Aires, but in leafy Mendoza.
This is about as far away as it is possible to get from the pressures normally associated with southern hemisphere Test rugby. Chile is less than a 90-minute drive away across the Andes and if you were so inclined you could sunbathe in the morning, ski in the afternoon and be back in time for the evening debriefing session.
The 2012 Springboks may not have time for such frivolity, but it is heartening to note that coach Heyneke Meyer has recognised the unique aspects of this week's venue. When more than 1000 people turned out to watch them train on Tuesday, he said: "It's really humbling. You realise how great it is that Argentina have been added to the Rugby Championship."
It will become more and more important to remember Meyer's words, for as their inaugural season draws on things will get harder, not easier, for the Pumas. There will inevitably be calls for a return to strength versus strength, but they should be resisted because Argentina is a team in transition.
Their big chance has come too late for players such as Felipe Contepomi and Agustin Pichot, two of their stars in the third-placed finish at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. The new generation of players has a choice their predecessors did not: they can stay at home and wait for quality opposition to fly in.
In the short term, then, the Springboks need to capitalise on the Pumas' current status. They failed to score a four-try bonus point in Cape Town last week and, in fact, battled to assert themselves for the last hour of the match. Injuries have necessitated some changes this week and there is the distinct feeling that Meyer's team is still a work in progress.
It is time, for instance, that he stops trying to replace Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf.
Trying to reproduce the work of his predecessor has emasculated Francois Hougaard's game. He simply does not have the range of kicking skills needed to play like Du Preez and while he worries about that, his trademark sniping runs have become far less numerous.
Equally, Meyer should be seeking a distinct change in tactics. Fighting for the ball on the ground after the collisions is a good way to keep the Pumas in the game. Off-loading in the tackle, taking the ball wide and staying away from the set pieces is a good way to play them out of the game. It is a method that demands macho sensibilities to be put on hold, however, and that may make it unpopular in the camp.
Heaven knows, no one wants a return to the infamous game at the River Plate Stadium in November 2000 when coach Harry Viljoen picked Percy Montgomery at flyhalf and told him he was not allowed to kick. Late in the game, with four points dividing the sides and the Pumas bearing down on Monty in his own goal area, it fell to assistant coach Jake White to scream above the din: "Kick it, Monty! For God's sake, kick it!"