Bumbling Boks down Pumas

The Springboks beat Argentina 24-13 on Friday to clinch third place in the 2015 World Cup, reports JON CARDINELLI at the Olympic Stadium.

The Boks have finished their World Cup campaign on a positive note. They have done enough to finish the 2015 Test season at third in the World Rugby rankings. Unfortunately, the quality of performance in the third-place play-off did little to challenge the perception that they are a limited side.

Bryan Habana came into this match with a tally of 15 World Cup tries, a record shared with All Blacks great Jonah Lomu. Habana had several opportunities to score in the first half and claim the record for himself. Unfortunately, the winger failed to finish on each occasion, and the crowd of 55,000 at the Olympic Stadium acknowledged each missed opportunity with a groan.

In the 10th minute, Habana was beaten to a kick that rolled over the tryline by Argentina fullback Lucas Amorosino. In the 19th, he swooped on a loose ball at the ruck and made it as far as the Argentina 22 before he had the ball knocked out of his hands.

In the 29th, Handré Pollard broke the line and sent a long spiralling pass in Habana’s direction. The left wing juggled the ball before losing it completely. The result was the same when he tried to retrieve his own kick in the 35th. It seemed as if Habana just wasn’t meant to surpass Lomu.

That said, the Boks had the better of an Argentina side missing a number of key players. They won the territorial battle. Their exiting from their own 22 was an improvement on last week’s performance.

The Pumas let themselves down with poor discipline. Scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli was yellow-carded for cynical play in the fifth minute, and the Boks scored 10 points during his absence.

The South Africans may have scored more during that period had they controlled possession better and taken better decisions. As it was, they lost ball in contact, and kicked when they should have kept it in hand.

A JP Pietersen try and four successful goal kicks by Pollard saw the Boks going to the break with a 16-0 lead. Nicolás Sánchez got the Pumas on the board with a drop goal right after half-time.

Two minutes later, the Boks finished a well-worked move down the left flank. The try-scorer was not, however, the man looking to break the World Cup record. Eben Etzebeth showed good strength and speed to beat the cover defence to the tryline.

Pollard kicked his fifth penalty goal of the evening to steer the Boks to a 24-3 lead. Bok coach Heyneke Meyer started to make changes as the game entered the final half hour.

Schalk Burger was given a standing ovation by the crowd as he left the field. Captain Victor Matfield, another playing in his final Test for South Africa, received the same treatment when he made his way off in the 63rd minute.

Habana left the field four minutes later to similar applause. However, he will look back on this game with regret. Had he taken one of those earlier opportunities, he would have added to his World Cup tally and owned that record.

The crowd was less generous in their appraisal of the Boks’ tactics in the dying stages. The decision to kick for goal was met with boos around the ground. And when Pollard's attempt struck the upright, those jeers turned to cheers.

The Boks spent the remainder of the game defending, and were eventually breached in the final play of the game. The try marked a disappointing end for the Boks. They may take comfort in the result, but the performance was largely underwhelming.

Argentina – Try: Juan Pablo Orlandi. Conversion: Nicolás Sánchez. Penalty: Sánchez. Drop goal: Sánchez.
South Africa – Tries: JP Pietersen, Eben Etzebeth. Conversion: Handré Pollard. Penalties: Pollard (4).

Argentina – 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Nicolás Sánchez (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Juan Figallo.
Subs: 16 Lucas Noguera, 17 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 18 Santiago Garcia Botta, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Facundo Isa, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Pablo Socino.

Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSM Images

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Jon Cardinelli