In their first Rugby Championship match of 2018, South Africa’s Springboks came out with refashioned vigour in the second half to beat Argentina 34-21 after trailing 14-10 at half-time.
The Springboks won five league points for the match, the Pumas none. This has been a trying time for the men from Argentina as it is their 12th defeat in their last 13 matches, with only a win against Italy to relieve the gloom.
Thee was a small crown in the ground on a perfect evening in Durban, certainly far fewer than the 35 000 who watch last year’s Currie Cup final. It may suggest that the approach of another Test match is interesting, but not exciting.
After the early ceremonies of honouring the dead. seeing the muscular impi of three, singing the anthems and the presentation of Zulu weapons to Agustín Creevy, Handré Pollard kicked off and the Springboks were on the attack and the Pumas were penalised.
In this half in all but one instance, the Springboks kicked the ball out in the hope if scoring a try. It did not work, partly because line-out throwing/catching was inadequate and partly because the Pumas were strong.
The Springboks nearly scored when Faf de Klerk kicked a box kick and Aphiwe Dyantyi, despite his remarkable speed and nimbleness, was just not able to get there in time.
But the Springboks stayed on the attack and from a line-out set up phases till Frans Malherbe helped Pollard to advance and Lusanda Am scored the try. 5-0 after 8 minutes.
Missing the conversion was significant as Pollard, normally such a reliable goal-kicker, missed five kicks at goal in this match, worth 11 points.
The Springboks stayed on the attack till the got onto the attack. It started when the Springboks were penalised at an in-touch scuffle. Mischievous Gonzalo Bertranou may have started it but Tendai Mtawarira was the one penalised for running in to get involved. The Pumas kicked it out. The Pumas won the line-out on their right and the referee was playing advantage when Nicolás Sánchez hoisted a high diagonal towards the Springbok goal-line. The Pumas got the ball and bashed ahead till it came back to Sánchez who skated round on an arc for an untouched try behind the posts. And the Pumas led 7-5.
When the Springboks were attacking, Willie le Roux did a clever chip but Bautista Delguy forced Dyantyi into touch
Le Roux and Pieter-Steph du Toit spearheaded an attack but the Pumas won a turnover and were off into the Springbok 22 where Siya Kolisi saved.
The second Puma try had a fortuitous start. Springbok forwards won the ball back from a tackle after a strong run by Kolisi but there was nobody there to make use of it. But big Marcos Kremer was not shy in picking it up. He handed his pickings to his captain, and Pablo Matera raced over for a try in the left corner, whence Sánchez converted.
The Springboks came back and their second try was exquisite. The ball came to Le Roux going left and he kicked a perfect diagonal which Dyantyi caught on the run and he scored. 14-10, the half-time score in the Pumas’ favour.
The second half was different. The Springboks had a lighter step and played at a much higher tempo. Pollard, Le Roux and André Esterhuizen got the Springboks going forward and then De Klerk lofted a long box kick down the left. Dyantyi chased, grabbed and, when tackled from behind by Delguy, stretched to score the try far out on the left. But Pollard converted. 17-14 after 42 minutes.
Seven minutes later there was another try. A penalty became another attacking line-out and the Springboks bashed with Marx stopped on the line. De Klerk then floated a long pass out to Makazole Mapimpi who was unmarked and the wing scored. 22-14.
Marx won another penalty at tackle and the Springboks had another attacking line-out. The line-out was a fumbling affair but they attacked. They tapped a penalty five metres from the line and when Dyantyi got a pass he could easily have scored on the left but instead gave to Mapimpi who scored.
27-14 and there was an air of the inevitable about a Springbok victory.
The Springboks were going left on a routine passing exercise when suddenly Matías Moroni intercepted Damian Willemse’s long pass and sprinted through uninhabited acres to score at the posts. 27-21.
A Puma victory was not out of the question though the Springboks appeared not to consider the possibility. They kicked two penalties into touch for five-metre line-outs and on advantage powerful substitute Steven Kitshoff charged to the line. De Klerk picked up, darted, ducked and dived for a try next to the posts. 34-20 with 10 minutes to play.
The Springboks won, and the whole bench got caps, even Embrose Papier who got his on the wing, which left Faf de Klerk able to continue playing scrumhalf.
The Springboks will doubtless be pleased with their scrumming for they destroyed the Puma scrum. The feared bajada scrum is no more.
They will also be pleased of the work at the tackle by Malcolm Marx, Francois Louw and, later, Marco van Staden. They will also have been pleased with Aphiwe Dyantyi’s footwork and speed, the way he can always forge ahead, and Willie le Roux’s special, unique touched.
Man of the Match: We think particularly of Willie le Roux, Aphiwe Dyantyi and our choice – Eben Etzebeth,returning from injury and playing flat out for 80 minutes, carrying with power, tackling decisively and winning one of their line-outs with skill and timing.
For South Africa:
Tries: Am, Dyantyi 2, Mapimpi 2, De Klerk
Con: Pollard 2
Tries: Sanchez, Matera, Moroni
Cons: Sanchez 3
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matías Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Diego Fortuny, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)