A Juan Imhoff hat-trick helped Argentina claim a 37-25 victory in Durban on Saturday and their first-ever win against the Springboks. JON CARDINELLI reports.
What a moment for Argentina. After 20 matches, they finally have a Test victory against South Africa. After four years, they finally have an away win in the Rugby Championship.
The result in Durban has propelled the Pumas to a third-place finish in the southern hemisphere tournament, which is another first. This victory, this moment, will live on long after the celebratory hangovers have faded.
For the Boks, the day couldn’t be much blacker. They suffered their first ever defeat to Argentina. They’ve now lost four Tests in succession. Defeats in all three of their 2015 Rugby Championship games sees them rooted to the bottom of the log.
It gets worse when you start to look beyond the result. The Boks weren’t just beaten at Kings Park this Saturday. They were smashed by 12 points. And to be fair, the Argentines left a few points on the park, with two missed penalty attempts as well as a missed drop goal by flyhalf Juan Martín Hernández.
In the buildup, the Pumas spoke about targeting the Boks in the follow-up fixture in Buenos Aires. Nobody expected Argentina to focus their collective energy on the game in Durban. History suggested they didn’t stand a chance.
But in the moments before kick-off, one got the feeling that they were up for this particular battle. They lined up to sing their national anthem. Standing opposite them was the Argentina side that toured South Africa in 1965. Perhaps the class of 2015 wanted to produce something special for their predecessors. Perhaps they felt the time was right to challenge the status quo.
They dominated the breakdowns and collisions in those first 20 minutes. It was a dogfight, and as we have come to expect, Argentina thrive in these sorts of scraps.
Marcelo Bosch scored in the second minute, while Imhoff scored in the 23rd. The winger added a second right after the half-hour mark, and unbelievably, the visitors were 21-6 up. More shocking than the scoreline was the ease with which the Pumas were breaching the gainline.
The Boks’ one-on-one defence was abysmal. Argentina bossed the scrums with the veteran Marcos Ayerza targeting the two-Test rookie Vincent Koch. After conceding numerous penalties, Koch was taken off at half-time.
In past battles against Argentina, South Africa have gone onto win after producing a superior second-half performance. On this occasion, however, it was the Pumas who showed greater composure in the decisive moments.
The Boks did well to score through Lood de Jager after 35 minutes, and thus fight their way back into the contest at 21-13. Unforgivably, a series of mistakes contributed to the hosts conceding six more points and thus trailing 27-13 at the break.
The Bok backlash that most were expecting never materialised. The Pumas maintained their efforts at the breakdown and collisions. Referee Romain Poite allowed a contest at the rucks, and the Boks simply never adapted.
In the 43rd minute, there was some controversy in the lead-up to Imhoff’s third try. The Pumas were awarded a penalty 5m out from the South African line. Jean de Villiers had called his players together during a break in play that saw several members of medical staff on the field.
Poite ruled time on despite the presence of the medical team, and Argentina reacted quickly to put Imhoff away in the left-hand corner. De Villiers protested, but the try stood. Argentina had the four-try bonus point, and with Hernandez’s conversion, they were out to a 34-13 lead.
From there, the Boks were forced to chase the game. There was some success in the form of a try for Willie le Roux, but for the most part, their erratic, go-for-broke approach culminated in mistakes. They grew more frustrated as the game progressed, and this played into the Pumas’ hands.
Bosch sunk a drop goal in the 63rd minute to take the game away from the hosts. At 37-20, the Boks were dead and buried. The final 17 minutes were then dedicated to reducing the margin of defeat.
For a while, it seemed the Boks would suffer their heaviest ever defeat under Heyneke Meyer. Replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach was denied a try in the 75th minute when Poite ruled that his quick tap wasn’t taken from the mark. It was clear at that point that the Boks were livid with the ref.
A long pass by Le Roux found Bryan Habana in the 79th minute, and narrowed the gap to 12 points. It wasn’t enough to deny the Pumas a historic win, but it did spare the Boks the embarrassment of their biggest defeat since the 32-16 hammering at the hands of the All Blacks in Johannesburg four years ago.
The Boks will complain about the ref and the way he managed the game. But if they are being honest with themselves, they will admit they deserved to lose this clash.
They failed to bring the necessary intensity to this fixture, and were too easily flustered by the Pumas’ tactics.
The defeat to Argentina is a major mental blow ahead of the World Cup, as is the fact they’ve now lost four games on the bounce.
The next game against the Pumas in Buenos Aires, which is the Boks' final Test before the World Cup, has now taken on more importance. South Africa need to win that match and take some momentum into the global tournament.
Springboks – Tries: Lood de Jager, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana. Conversions: Handré Pollard (2). Penalties: Pollard (2).
Argentina – Tries: Marcelo Bosch, Juan Imhoff (3). Conversions: Juan Martín Hernández (4). Penalties: Hernandez, Bosch. Drop goal: Bosch.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Matías Díaz, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago González Iglesias, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images