The Springboks overcame torrential conditions and a provocative Pumas side to win 13-6 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI in Pretoria.
Ten minutes before kick-off, Loftus was hit by a storm of biblical proportions. Hail stones the size of golf balls bounced off the players as they sang the national anthems, and the driving rain sent spectators literally sprinting for cover.
The storm may not have signalled the end of the world, but it certainly killed off any hopes of a free-flowing spectacle. For South Africa, it put pay to their four-try bonus point ambitions. Conditions were beyond challenging. World-class athletes were made to look like rank amateurs as they slipped on the greasy surface, and spilled possession with comedic regularity.
The conditions suited the Pumas. The weather forced the Boks to change tack, to run at the powerful Pumas forwards rather than attack in the wider channels. The Boks were battling to adjust, and the Pumas realised this very quickly.
The Pumas niggled at the Boks off the ball, and these tactics were largely successful. The Boks reacted, and were often on the wrong side of a penalty.
Bok flyhalf Handré Pollard had a forgettable night. The situation demanded that he kick for territory, and kick accurately. The youngster battled to control the ball, and to be fair so did most of the other players. Pollard’s kicks rarely found the mark, and it wasn’t a surprise to see him subbed for Morné Steyn after 45 minutes.
The one player who did excel under pressure was Willie le Roux. The Bok fullback was safe under the high ball, and contributed with some terrific ground-gaining punts.
It was not the type of game where his natural attacking strengths were maximised, but he did show yet again that he can be an asset in these conditions. It was not a flawless performance, but Le Roux did a lot of good in the most challenging of environments.
Argentina flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez was the standout for the visitors, causing the Bok defence all sorts of problems. His goal-kicking kept the Pumas in the game, a second penalty after half-time reducing the deficit to just four points.
The rain eventually abated, and Steyn kicked a penalty goal to provide the Boks with some breathing room. The hosts then turned down a kickable penalty in the 65th minute, but then proceeded to lose the lineout. It was a poor decision that made for a nervous finish to the game.
The Pumas made the same mistake in the 74th minute. They kicked a penalty to touch, and then lost the ball over the tryline. They had a chance to level the scores right on full time, but knocked the ball on.
While conditions must be taken into account when assessing the quality of this performance, the Boks will not be happy. They conceded too many turnovers, be it at the lineout or breakdown. Their scrum was under pressure from the very first set piece. In general, they were too easily rattled and provoked by Argentina at the tackle point.
They were always the better side at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, and the win may have been more emphatic had the weather been clear. However, they will know that there is a lot of work to be done ahead of the next clash in Salta.
Springboks – Try: Ruan Pienaar. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Pollard, Morné Steyn.
Argentina – Penalties: Nicolás Sánchez (2).
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 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Oupa Mohoje, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Argentina – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Fernández Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Subs: 16 Matías Corteze, 17 Lucas Noguera Paz, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Del La Funte, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images