20 August 2012
The Springboks opened their four-nations Rugby Championship campaign with a grind-it-out 27-6 victory over Argentina in Cape Town on Saturday, but it came at a cost as Bismarck du Plessis suffered a serious knee injury which will likely keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
Du Plessis, regarded by many as the best hooker in world rugby, was tackled without the ball early in the match, directly on the knee. He fell to the ground writhing in pain and was eventually taken from the field on a golf cart. Later, it was confirmed that he had suffered knee ligament damage.
“Bismarck, as a quality ball stealer, was our most experienced forward and we definitely missed him,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer told the media after the match.
On a positive note, man of the match Morne Steyn, who was sub-standard with the boot in the three-match England test series, returned to his best form, landing every kick he took at goal. He also kicked well for touch and tactically, with one of those tactical kicks producing South Africa’s third try.
Zane Kirchner was solid at the back under some testing high balls and he also crashed over for a try, only his second in the green and gold.
For much of the match, though, it was an arm wrestle, with the Pumas exhibiting some ferocious defence, along with some streetwise tactics at the breakdowns. Their captain, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, led from the front and lock Patricio Albacete, a veteran of three World Cups, showed his smarts in the take-no-prisoners contest.
Both Pumas’ wings, Gonzalo Camacho and Horacio Agulla, displayed fast feet in limited space.
‘I am pleased’
Summarising his charges’ performance, Bok coach Meyer said: “We played well at times and although it is a pity that we did not get the bonus point, I am pleased. The players gave it their all and I cannot ask for more.”
Argentina went into the game with a front row composed of three props in an effort to put the South African scrum under pressure, but they couldn’t get the upper hand; Adriaan Strauss, who took over from Bismarck du Plessis, was solid in the set pieces and threw himself around the field with a whole-hearted effort.
The Springboks were first onto the scoreboard in Saturday’s showdown, with Morne Steyn landing a fourth-minute penalty after Argentina had gone offside as they scrambled to defend a fast-moving Bok attack. While he took the kick, Bismarck du Plessis’ game was ending as he received treatment before being removed from the field.
Shortly after that, another promising Springbok attack was stymied inside the Pumas’ 22-metre area when South African skipper Jean de Villiers was penalised for holding onto the ball on the ground.
Argentina responded with a multi-phased attack of their own and won a penalty inside the Bok 22 when Kirchner tried to play the ball from an offside position. Flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez, who once upon a time played for the Sharks, landed the kick to level the scores at 3-3.
The home team hit the front in the 16th minute when they were awarded a free kick after an early engagement by the Pumas’ scrum. Francois Hougaard took a quick tap and threw out a ball to the left. The Springboks quickly set up two rucks before passing the ball out wide towards the left touchline.
With an overlap having been created, Kirchner was able to use the extra man on his outside to cut inside the cover defence and crash over for a try. Steyn added the extras to make it 10-3 to the Boks.
After Argentina went offside in the 24th minute, Steyn extended South Africa’s lead by slotting another penalty to make it 13-3.
Only three minutes later, captain De Villiers opted to set up a lineout five metres from the Pumas’ tryline after the Springboks had won a kickable penalty. It proved to be an astute decision.
The Boks mauled the ball up towards the tryline before flank Marcell Coetzee broke off from the back to the blindside where he powered over the line despite the attentions of Agulla to score South Africa’s second try.
Steyn’s successful conversion from the touchline made it 20-3 in South Africa’s favour.
Hernandez reduced the deficit to two converted tries with a penalty in the 31st minute after the Boks were penalised for going offside.
Argentina put South Africa under heavy pressure in the early minutes of the second half, but they missed three penalties within the first six minutes. The next points went the home team’s way in the 17th minute of the half.
After South Africa had won a lineout close to the Argentinian line, the Pumas attempted to collapse the Springboks’ maul. In what was clearly a planned move, flyhalf Steyn, recognising that he would at least be granted a kick at goal if his plan failed, launched a cross-field kick for the right hand corner where Bryan Habana and Zane Kirchner could challenge for the ball.
Habana plucked it out of the air and twisted out of an attempted tackle to dot down South Africa’s third try by falling over the tryline. Steyn kept his record for the day perfect by landing another conversion from the touchline to make it 27-6 in South Africa’s favour.
Top of the table
The victory over the Pumas leaves the Springboks top of the Rugby Championship standings after New Zealand beat Australia 27-19 in their opening game. The All Blacks’ victory, though, came away from home in Sydney.
Next up for the Boks is another test against Argentina, this time in Mendoza on Saturday.
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