Two tries by wing Sibusiso Nkosi helped South Africa record a hard-earned 24-18 win over Argentina in Pretoria on Saturday – maintaining the Springboks’ unbeaten run in 2019.
It was a scrappy win by a scratch Bok team, but it was mission accomplished in front of 29,383 spectators – by a team that won the Rugby Championship a week ago and will go into the World Cup on a high.
It was not an entirely drab match. There were the two tries by Sibusiso Nkosi, Guido Petti’s intercept and 52-metre run for the try, the goal-kicking of Elton Jantjies and the last few minutes of Puma zest to prevent total drabness. But mostly it was drab, lacking continuity and the standard of skill that is expected of international sides of world class.
Two consultations with the TMO resulted in Pumas’ tries being disallowed, the second one when there were three minutes to go and the score was 24-18. And it would have been a try for 23-year-old Lucas Mensa who was playing for the Pumas for the first time. No try on debut for him.
It did give bench players a chance to get onto the field, including new cap Scarra Ntubeni who had been on a Springbok tour without playing but can now wear his Springbok blazer, not just carry it.
The sad happening was the bang on the head that sent Marcell Coetzee off for an head injury assessment after just 16 minutes. He did not return to play. A pity, as much had been expected of him. He was injured in a clash with big Marcos Kremer who seemed to make contact with his shoulder and head leading and his arms not involved.
Early on the Springboks had three kickable penalties. They opted for touch on each occasion. Nothing came of the opportunities, as the first was knocked on, the second became their penalty at a maul and the third was lost to a turnover.
Then when Petti was penalised at a tackle, Jantjies kicked for goal. 3-0 after 18 minutes.
The Pumas put the ball through phases but without advancing till Kwagga Smith was penalised for playing the scrumhalf at a tackle-ruck and flyhalf Joaquín Díaz Bonilla goaled. 3-3 after 26 minutes.
Then came a bright moment, a bright moment in any match, but in this one it was a diamond on a dull background.
From a lineout on their left, the Springboks went right, moving the ball with simple passes till it reached fullback Warrick Gelant who was in the line. Gelant gave a perfect pass to Nkosi on the Puma 22 and he set off, beating two defenders before diving over in the corner. 8-3 after 32 minutes.
On the stroke of half-time, scrumhalf Jaco Reinach passed to his right from a tackle-ruck, but the ball went straight to Petti, a couple of metres inside his own half. The big lock pounded down the Loftus turf to score next to the posts. The conversion made the score 10-8 in the Pumas’ favour and the players went off for half-time.
Early in the second half, Kremer charged down a clearing kick by Gelant and got the ball. Gelant tackled Kremer but the Puma managed an untidy offload to Sebastián Cancelliere on his right. Cancelliere got the ball and went over for what could have been a try, had the TMO not advised that he had knocked on in getting the ball.
Instead it was the Springboks who scored and again it was the elusive running of Nkosi that scored the try. Near the Pumas’ 10-metre line, Jesse Kriel threw a long skip pass out to Nkosi, who got past three defenders to dive over for a try in the right corner. That he did it was sheer Houdini. Jantjies converted from touch. 15-10 after 49 minutes.
The second half promised to be far brighter than the first half.
After this substitutions started. One of the Puma substitutes, Benjamin Urdapilleta, kicked a penalty goal. 15-13 after 55 minutes. Jantjies did in like manner and it was 18-10 with 21 minutes to play.
With 15 minutes to play, the Argentians preferred a five-metre lineout to kicking for goal. They attacked the Springbok line and the defence was holding till Matera came storming up, took a pass and was over for a try a good way in. The conversion attempt was unsuccessful and the score was 18-all.
Three minutes later Julian Montoya was penalised at a tackle and Jantjies goaled. 21-18.
Just after this the Pumas went left near the half-way line and after the best interpassing of the match Mensa raced over for a try. But referee, assistant referee and TMO consulted and determined that Jerónimo de la Fuente had got in Vincent Koch’s way, thus preventing him from tackling and the try was not allowed.
The scoring ended when Jantjies goaled his fourth penalty.
There were three minutes of playing time left. The Pumas got the ball and attacked with great zest till they lost it forward to end the match.
Man of the Match: Schalk Brits was his usual self, smiling, enjoying the occasion and throwing in excellently at lineouts, But the award must go to that quiet elusive wing, Sibusiso Nkosi, who, by the way, was also excellent on defence.
Moment of the Match: It’s a choice between Nkosi’s two tries and Guido Petti’s intercept. Petti’s run was wonderful – the sight of a big man thundering down the field while smaller men head for him in vain. But we shall chose Nkosi’s second try. It should not have happened. There was something miraculous about it.
Villain of the Match: Nobody. There were only honourable sportsmen on Loftus Versfeld this Saturday.
For South Africa:
Tries: Nkosi 2
Pens: Jantjies 4
Tries: Petti, Matera
Pens: Bonilla, Urdapilleta
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sibusiso Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 André
Esterhuizen, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8
Marcell Coetzee, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi, 5 Lodewyk de
Jager, 4 Rudolph Snyman, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits (captain), 1
Thomas du Toit.
Replacements: 16 Siyabonga Ntubeni, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Albertus Smith, 22 Francois de Klerk, 23 Frans Steyn.
15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Sebastián Cancelliere, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente,
12 Lucas Mensa, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquín Díaz Bonilla, 9 Felipe
Ezcurra, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera
(captain), 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Julian
Montoya, 1 Mayco Vivas.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)