Warren Whiteley scored a late try to help the Springboks clinch a 30-23 win against Argentina on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI at the Mbombela Stadium.
The Boks will breathe a sigh of relief. While much can be said for their persistence in the final 10 minutes of this contest, as well as the control and composure they showed in the lead-up to Whiteley’s 79th-minute try, it was a largely disappointing performance.
The Boks have done enough to begin their 2016 Rugby Championship campaign with a win. The result at the Mbombela Stadium brought an end to their three-game losing streak in the tournament.
And yet there will be more questions than answers in the wake of this South African showing. While the Pumas lost on this occasion, they will fancy their chances in the next meeting between the two sides in Salta next week.
The Boks began with a bang, bringing the modest crowd at the Mbombela Stadium to its feet. The lineout was operating at optimum efficiency, as was the kick-off reception.
The backs looked to be in good touch too. After Elton Jantjies punched through a gap to unleash Johan Goosen and Ruan Combrinck down the right-hand touchline, with the latter showing exceptional strength to power through three cover defenders, a particularly vocal group in the stands took to chanting ‘Jantjies on Fire’.
Unfortunately for the revellers in the crowd, that fire didn’t take long to burn out. Shortly after Combrinck’s try and Jantjies’s touchline conversion in the eighth minute, the Boks lost their way.
Their effort at the collisions and breakdowns lacked power and accuracy. Argentina began to assert their dominance at the gainline, and controlled the tempo of the game through a superior showing at the rucks. Somewhat surprisingly, they used the garryowen to great effect, and the Pumas chasers did well to beat Bok fullback Goosen in the air.
The Boks’ inexperience was exposed during the second quarter of the contest. Only five out of the 15 players who started for the hosts boasted more than 20 Test caps. That inexperience showed as the collective failed to build on their good start, and took some truly horrendous decisions.
Argentina went a step too far when Manuel Montero upended Damian de Allende at a ruck in the 22nd minute. Referee Glen Jackson showed the winger a yellow card, and that should have provided the Boks with an opportunity to add to their score and take control of the game.
Instead, the Boks conspired to concede 10 points while they had the one-man advantage. They failed to add to their own tally during this period.
Earlier this week, Bok coach Allister Coetzee promised an improved defensive performance by his charges. And yet, the defensive showing at the Mbombela Stadium was more desperate than dominant.
There were moments when individual players were left grasping at thin air. Argentina launched a counter-attack from deep inside their own half, fullback Joaquin Tuculet making good metres down the left-hand touchline.
The Bok cover defence got back, but could not prevent the visitors from reloading their attack out to the right. Goosen attempted to get across and prevent the try, but was beaten by Matias Orlando for pace. Nicolás Sánchez added the extras to extend the Pumas’ lead to 13-10.
The Boks had their chances to salvage a score or two at the end of the first half. Goosen and Jantjies missed three goal kicks between them in the first stanza. Lionel Mapoe ran a great line to breach the Pumas’ defence, but then lost the ball in the act of scoring.
Unfortunately for the Boks, the start to the second half was nothing like the first. They continued to battle at the gainline, and the resultant pressure led to more handling errors and shocking decision-making.
Bryan Habana was yellow-carded for a challenge in the air in the 46th minute. This time, it was the Pumas who failed to ram the advantage home. South Africa survived the period of sanction without conceding a point.
Jantjies held his nerve to kick a difficult penalty goal in the 56th minute. The score was still 13-13 when the contest moved into the decisive fourth quarter.
Sánchez had a chance to regain the lead for the visitors in the 62nd minute. As the penalty attempt sailed wide, the partisan crowd gave a collective sigh of relief.
But that relief was short-lived. The Boks couldn’t get out of their own half. It wasn’t long before they had conceded another penalty, and handed Sánchez another shot on goal. On this occasion, the Pumas flyhalf made no mistake.
The crowd waited in anticipation for the play that would put the result beyond doubt. Again, there was a great cry of anguish around the ground as a Pumas player conjured a piece of attacking magic that confounded an outclassed Bok defence.
Argentina countered from deep, and then controlled the ball through a couple of phases. Sánchez looked up to see the space behind the Bok defensive line unmanned, and chipped for his players to chase.
The ball sat up for Santiago Cordero to score the easiest of tries, and Sánchez's subsequent conversion took Argentina 10 points clear of the hosts with 12 minutes left on the stadium clock.
The Boks rallied to close the gap in the space of a couple of minutes. Goosen scored a crucial try, and then Jantjies nailed a conversion and penalty in quick succession to level the scores.
Goosen had a chance to win the game in the 75th minute. The Boks were awarded a penalty inside their own half, and elected to take the shot for goal. The fullback appeared to rush the attempt and did not hit the ball sweetly. It dropped well short of the posts.
When the Boks were awarded another penalty in range three minutes later, they opted to kick to the corner. They controlled the ball at the lineout, and then threw everything they had at the Pumas.
They eventually worked the ball back to the left where they had an overlap. Whiteley received the ball in space, and then held his nerve to find his way past the last defender and to the tryline for the game-winning score.
Springboks – Tries: Ruan Combrinck, Johan Goosen, Warren Whiteley. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalties: Jantjies (3).
Argentina – Tries: Matias Orlando, Santiago Cordero. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez (2). Penalties: Sánchez (3).
Springboks – 15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julían Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petty, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano.
Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images