26 August 2013
The Springboks maintained their lead in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship by beating the Pumas in Mendoza on Saturday. However, after winning by 60 points in Soweto, South Africa managed only a 22-17 victory away from home.
Backed by a passionate crowd, Argentina outscored South Africa two tries to one, but the unerring boot of Morne Steyn, who landed five penalties and a conversion without a miss, saw the Boks secure a win without a bonus point.
“I will never complain about a victory, but the truth is we were not good today,” coach Heyneke Meyer said after the match.
‘Guts and character’
“It took a lot of guts and character to win here and for that I’m proud of the players. However, we all realise we will have to improve a lot if we’re going to be competitive in Brisbane and Auckland.
“We always knew this was going to be a very tough match,” he added, “and that the Pumas were going to be a different opponent here than they were back in Soccer City. We learnt some very valuable lessons from this match.
“We will keep our feet on the ground and our heads down and continue to work hard in the next few weeks.”
Captain Jean de Villiers commented: “It was very tough out there. A year ago we drew this game, but today we won.
“Although the performance was not up to the standards we set ourselves, we’re happy with the four points we got here.”
Argentina had made five changes for the clash, while the Springboks were unchanged. One would have expected a convincing win for Meyer’s charges, but the South Americans played as if their 73-13 loss in Soweto had never happened.
They took the game to the Boks at the breakdown especially and succeeded in dominating both territory and possession. Their commitment was unquestionable, although at times it crossed the line.
After the match loose forwards Leonardo Senatore and Pablo Matera were cited for foul play after the match commissioner felt that both had committed red card offences during the game.
Senatore is alleged to have bitten Eben Etzebeth. Luckily for him, the replay system went on the blink when referee Steve Walsh asked to have the incident looked at. Matera is alleged to have made contact with the eyes of Francois Louw.
South Africa struggled to loosen the home team’s hold on the ball as the Pumas exhibited some fine handling skills with short passes, which were then backed up by their feisty attitude at the breakdown.
They also managed to slow down the Springboks’ ball and the slower pace of delivery from Ruan Pienaar was in stark contrast to the brilliant, fast and accurate service provided by Fourie du Preez when he came on in Soweto. Pienaar should not take the blame alone. He was not protected well and a focus on the rucks and mauls will no doubt be on coach Meyer’s to do list in the coming week.
While the South Africans scrum was solid, it was not dominant like it had been in Soweto, and the lineout, so assured at the FNB Stadium, was less assured this time around.
On a positive note, although the Springboks trailed from early on, and a real chance existed that they might lose, their performance, while below the standard they set themselves, exhibited far more direction than they showed in 2012 when they struggled to a 16-16 draw in Mendoza.
They also held the Pumas scoreless in the second half, apparently after some harsh words were shared the in change room.
In addition, the South African bench is one which instills confidence and the interchanging of players, done at the right time, lends another arrow to the green and gold bow. The current team is not made up of 15 players plus extras, it is a full 23-man squad, with everyone a contributor.
They will all need to be contributors for the tests that lies ahead. They face Australia in Brisbane on 7 September, followed by New Zealand in Auckland a week later, before returning home tests against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
In seven matches in Brisbane, the Springboks have yet to win. Furthermore, the results have not been close. Australia won 30-13 in 2010, 21-6 in 2009, 49-0 in 2006 and 29-9 in 2003. A strong showing, a win even, would mark a satisfying milestone for coach Meyer and his players.
South Africa last won at Eden Park in 1937, although they played to an 18-18 draw in 1994. Recent results, though, have been heavily in favour of the All Blacks: 32-12 in 2010, 26-15 in 2001 and 55-35 in 1997.
Again, an opportunity awaits the the Boks, and a win in either Australia or New Zealand will do wonders for their Rugby Championship challenge.