Morné Steyn kicked a 77th minute penalty to hand the Springboks a 33-31 win over Argentina on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
Two wins from two matches sees the Boks sitting pretty at the top of the Rugby Championship log. That said, there was nothing pretty about the Boks' performance in Salta. Indeed, if this result could be personified, it had warts, a hooked nose and a hunchback.
The Boks will feel relieved they banked the win. The Pumas, on the other hand, will wonder how they wasted yet another great opportunity to secure their first win in the competition.
The hosts were dominant at the scrums, and fiercely competitive at the lineouts and breakdowns. The Pumas flyhalf, Nicolás Sánchez, had another influential game with the boot, pinning the Boks back in their own territory and nailing some important goal kicks.
But how the Pumas will lament the kicks that Sánchez missed. Three place kicks failed to find their mark, as well as a drop-goal attempt. Argentina may have won this fixture comfortably had their flyhalf been more accurate.
There wasn't much more Argentina could have done but convert those kicks. It was a rousing and typical performance, played on the borderline of the law, no doubt, but largely effective.
The Boks were abjectly disappointing. It's just as well as they didn't secure the bonus-point try, as it would have had some sectors declaring the outing in Salta a resounding success.
The set pieces were a mess, and the breakdown play unconvincing. It's been a long time since the defence was so poor, and Heyneke Meyer will be livid that the Boks missed so many tackles and ultimately conceded three tries.
The final 25 minutes were a different story. The Boks not only showed some character during this period, but some precision as well.
Handré Pollard didn't play poorly, but the Boks certainly gained more direction when Morné Steyn was introduced in the second half. Steyn also nailed a crucial touchline conversion after Cornal Hendricks finished brilliantly to claim the Boks' second try.
Nine minutes later, captain Jean de Villiers turned down a kickable penalty and instructed Steyn to kick for touch. The Bok forwards then vindicated the bold decision, with Duane Vermeulen collecting the throw and setting up the maul. Marcell Coetzee was the man who was credited with the touchdown, but it was a great team try.
Marcelo Bosch sank a 50m penalty to edge the hosts into the lead. Not to be outdone, Steyn stepped up for the Boks, and bisected the uprights in the 77th minute. The game was the Boks to lose from there.
And they so nearly conspired to throw it away. The final three minutes were frantic. Argentina powered forward, and won a scrum in a great position just outside the Bok 22.
It was at this final play where the Bok forwards held their own, and the Pumas choked. Instead of building patiently through the phases and setting up the drop goal, a wild pass was thrown to the left wing, and bounced harmlessly into touch.
The Boks have won two from two and currently top the log, but they have much to rectify before they battle Australia in two weeks' time.
Argentina – Tries: Manuel Montero, Tomas Cubelli, Joaquin Tuculet. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (2). Penalties: Sánchez (2), Marcelo Bosch. Drop goal: Juan Martín Hernández.
Springboks – Tries: Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks, Marcell Coetzee. Conversions: Handré Pollard, Morné Steyn (2). Penalties: Pollard (3), Steyn.
Argentina – 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Paul Matera, 5 Thomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Horacio Agulla.
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthö Steenkamp.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Photo: Getty Images