Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias slotted a 78th-minute penalty as Argentina snatched a 26-24 win over the Springboks in Salta on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
How far have the Boks fallen? Well, Saturday's result has seen them suffer a second-ever defeat to the Pumas in just over a year.
Although it looked as if they might steal the result when Morné Steyn converted a 74th-minute penalty to put the Boks into a one-point lead, Argentina struck right back through the boot of Iglesias.
Few will argue that Argentina didn't deserve the win. The hosts completely dominated the opening half, and while matters ebbed and flowed in the second stanza, the Pumas held their nerve when it mattered most.
In the Boks' final two Tests against Ireland in June, and again when they took on Argentina last weekend, they required last-gasp efforts to secure hard-fought victories.
Again, it looked as if they might have manufactured another get-out-of-jail free card when second-half tries from Bryan Habana and Pieter-Steph du Toit restored some hope, but ultimately it wasn't enough.
Poor goal-kicking also proved extremely costly as three penalties were missed along with a conversion in an error-strewn performance that will undoubtedly be followed by plenty of recriminations.
The Boks have yet to produce a convincing performance so far this year, but the first-half display in Salta was surely the most listless of the lot. As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, they were completely and utterly outplayed by a far more energetic and accurate Argentinian side.
The Pumas made 192m to 61, 44 carries to 23, five clean breaks to none and enjoyed the better of both the possession (57%) and territory (58%) stats.
Since the start of the international season, the Boks have spoken of the fact that they’re still looking to establish their identity at the start of a new era, but it was once again abundantly evident that they are caught between styles of play. In fact, to be frank, they looked rather clueless in the first half.
The contest was particularly forgettable in the opening quarter, with six penalties conceded between the two teams (three at scrum time), while there were also five handling errors as proceedings degenerated into a scrappy stop-start affair.
It was clear early on that the Boks were looking to add increased line speed to their defence, but all too easily Argentina were able to use quick hand speed to open up some space out wide.
As it was, winger Manuel Montero had the first clear-cut scoring opportunity, but lost the ball in contact, while Matías Orlando was only just bundled into touch with the tryline at his mercy not long after.
After half an hour, the warning bells were ringing for the Springboks, with Nicolás Sánchez slotting two penalties to the solitary effort from Elton Jantjies, all at a time when the Pumas were down to 14 men after Ramiro Herrera was in the sin bin for a dangerous tackle.
To make matters worse, just as Argentina were restored to a full complement of players, the Springboks’ defence was horribly exposed as simple interpassing eventually created space for fullback Joaquín Tuculet to score in the 32nd minute.
An utterly hopeless first-half performance was perhaps quite aptly summed up when Jantjies missed his second penalty with the final play before the break, with the Boks trailing 13-3 at the interval.
Some stern words would have been surely exchanged in the changeroom at half-time, and to their credit, the Boks came out with renewed energy and intent after the restart.
First, Jantjies drew three points back with a penalty before some beautiful handling – including a behind-the-back pass from Francois Louw – enabled Bryan Habana to dart over for a try that took him clear as the leading tier-one Test try-scorer.
The conversion suddenly brought the Boks back on level terms, but Argentina hit right back as a perfectly weighted cross-kick from Juan Martín Hernández found flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamón, who dotted down despite the attentions of Habana.
It was abundantly evident that the Boks simply couldn’t live with the speed and intensity of Argentina’s superior attack, and another penalty won with the visitors under pressure on defence enabled Hernández to slot another three-pointer and restore a 10-point buffer.
Yet, as was the case in Nelspruit last weekend, it looked as if the Boks would finish with a late surge to deny the Pumas. Steyn cut the deficit by three points when he slotted a 64th-minute penalty, while Pieter-Steph du Toit barged over to score some five minutes later.
Soon after, Steyn briefly put the Boks ahead with his second penalty, but then up stepped Iglesias to break Bok hearts.
Argentina – Tries: Joaquín Tuculet, Juan Manuel Leguizamón. Conversions: Nicolás Sánchez, Juan Martín Hernández. Penalties: Sánchez (2), Hernández, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias.
Springboks – Tries: Bryan Habana, Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversion: Johan Goosen. Penalties: Elton Jantjies (2), Morné Steyn (2).
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 Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas González Amorosino.
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 Vincent Koch, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Jesse Kriel.
Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP Image