27 August 2012
The Springboks produced a disappointing performance in Mendoza on Saturday, drawing 16-16 with Argentina in the Castle Rugby Championship. It was contest they could easily have lost and with it their unbeaten record against the South American side.
Spurred on by a passionate crowd, the Pumas took the game to South Africa and were able to disrupt and slow down the Boks’ ball at ruck time despite the South Africa featuring a big pack, including the sizeable loose forward trio of Willem Alberts, Marcell Coetzee and Jacques Potgieter.
It was a reflection on the fact that a good number of the Argentinians ply their trade in the northern hemisphere where the rucks are more vigorously contested than they are in the Super Rugby competition.
Argentina on top
In the second half, the Boks were able to secure better ball, but it never came easily and the exchanges at ruck time belonged to Argentina. It also served to underline what South Africa lost when Bismarck du Plessis, a superb ball winner, was injured in their opening Rugby Championship test at Newlands.
Jean de Villiers and company tried to spread the ball wide, but they tended to throw skip passes to do so, which allowed the Argentinians to shift their defence with the ball, without being required to tackle the skipped player, thus nullifying any overlaps the Springboks might have created.
There were precious few angled runs and flat passes, which also made it relatively easy for the Pumas to cope with South Africa’s attacking forays.
The lineouts, which were for so long a strength of the Springboks with Victor Matfield ruling the roost, were poor, with a number of throw-ins conceded. Andries Bekker, who was a tower of strength at Newlands, failed to impose himself this time around.
By the same token, referee Steve Walsh failed to take any action against the Pumas’ throw-ins, which were time and again on the outside shoulder of the Argentinian forwards; then again, you get away with what you can get away with.
It was, all in all, a very tepid, unimaginative and uninspiring performance from South Africa.
‘We were not good enough’
Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was in no doubt that his charges had failed to deliver anything near their best. After the game, he paid credit to Argentina, before saying: “We were not good enough and they played very well, but we let our country and ourselves down tonight.”
Looking back on the Springboks’ slow start, he added: “We always knew they were going to come out hard at us and that it was going to be very tough, but you can’t afford to give away all those penalties we did early in the game. That was unacceptable.”
He identified the breakdown as a problem area, saying that the Boks struggled to get quick ball from those exchanges. When they did manage to win quick ball, he added, it was not used as well as it should have been.
Loose trio question
Meyer is known to favour big forwards, but his admission might mean he is willing to consider a smaller ball winner in the loose trio. Maybe a recall for Heinrich Brussouw?
The final whistle told a story; both teams were visibly disappointed, but the reasons were vastly different. Argentina knew an opportunity had slipped through their fingers to record a first ever win over South Africa. The Springboks knew they had underperformed badly.
South Africa had the first chance to score points on Saturday when the Pumas were blown up for entering a ruck from the side in the second minute. Francois Steyn took a shot directly into the breeze from inside his own half, but his effort passed just to the right of the uprights.
The Pumas soon had an opportunity to level the scores through fullback Martin Rodriguez, but he didn’t have enough distance on his kick. In the tenth minute, though, the home team hit the front as Rodriguez succeeded with his second shot at goal.
The Springboks were struggling in the rucks as Argentina competed strongly, often forcing the men in green and gold to commit more players to the breakdown than the opposition did.
Just after the quarter-hour mark, the Pumas extended their lead. Good, quick passing took them into the South African 22 where tighthead prop Juan Figallo handed off neatly to centre Santiago Fernandez as two players tackled him. The sleight of hand went unseen by the Springbok defenders and Fernandez burst clear to crash over near the uprights.
Rodriguez added the extras to make it 10-0 to the hosts, much to the delight of the crowd.
Buoyed by their try, the Pumas continued to take the game to the Boks, who looked out of sorts and seemed stunned by the ferocity of the Argentinians’ challenge.
Rodriguez was presented with a further chance to add to his team’s score when the Pumas won another penalty at the breakdown, but he was wide of the mark.
First Springbok points
After the Springboks’ first decent attacking play of the match, flyhalf Morne Steyn had a shot at goal from a penalty, but his kick passed left of the posts. Three minutes later, in the 33rd minute, he scored South Africa’s first points of the game with a penalty.
Argentina’s lead was soon back up to 10 points when Rodriguez nailed an easy penalty four minutes from the break. The teams turned at 13-3 in favour of the hosts.
The first scoring chance of the second half, like in the first half, went the way of Francois Steyn, who had another long range shot at goal without success. His namesake, Morne, however, landed a penalty after eight minutes to bring the Springboks within a converted try of the Pumas’ score. It seemed they should have been far further adrift.
The ineffective Andries Bekker was replaced by Flip vand er Merwe only 10 minutes into the half, but the Bulls’ lock immediately conceded a penalty, which cost South Africa three points as Rodriguez converted his kick at goal to make it 16-6 to the Pumas.
The Springboks, though, replied quickly with a Morne Steyn penalty after referee Steve Walsh pinged the Argentinians for not rolling away at the ruck quickly enough.
With 15 minutes remaining, the Boks benefitted from a charge down by Francois Steyn on the Argentina 22-metre line. The ball rebounded towards the try line and the big South African centre won the race to it, scooped it up and dived over for a try. Morne Steyn’s conversion levelled the scores at 16-16.
South Africa looked more assured in the final 10 minutes of the contest and managed to put some phases together as they sought a winning score, but the Pumas stood firm.
A final attack ended, appropriately, with a steal by the Pumas from a ruck. The ball was safely cleared and the match ended in a draw that neither team enjoyed.
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