The Springboks outlasted a fast-finishing Argentina by 22-21 at Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg on Saturday to finish the Castle Lager Rugby Championship on a high, but Bok coach Jacques Nienaber will be the first to admit that it was a rusty effort.
The Springboks held a 15-6 lead at the break and outscored the Pumas by three tries to two, but never really showed fluency on attack, while their discipline also left much to be desired. It was rather their sheer willpower on defence that had the crowd on their feet and secured a frustrating win for the men in green and gold.
The match started in terrible fashion for the Springboks. From the kick-off, Grant Williams was knocked out cold by a charging defender trying to block his kick and the Bok scrumhalf had to be replaced by Faf de Klerk.
To add insult to injury, the Boks were also pinged for holding onto the ball. Argentina attacked first with a tap penalty and when that did not work due an offside Bok defence, Pumas flyhalf Santiago Carreras kicked the first points of the match.
The Boks then fluffed an ideal scoring opportunity when Jesse Kriel charged down a Pumas kick near their try-line, only to see the ball elude him as he tried to score a try. Instead, it was Argentina who scored again, with Carreras kicking a 50m penaly goal for a 6-0 lead to the Pumas nine minutes into the match.
From the restart, the Boks turned over a ball after a tackle and when the Pumas did not roll away in time, Manie Libbok kicked his team’s first points as some momentum started to come from the home side.
Their first try followed soon afterwards. An attacking lineout saw Malcolm Marx and Eben Etzebeth combining down the right flank and when play came back towards the towering lock, he left Carreras sprawled on the turf as he dotted down for the fifth time in 112 Test matches. Libbok missed the conversion, but the Boks were 8-6 up and the crowd happy.
A second Bok try shortly after had them on their feet again. A strong maul had the Argentinean defence in tatters and Damian de Allende only had to fall over the line. Libbok kicked the conversion for a 15-6 lead after 27 minutes.
Carreras, who left the field for an HIA after the attempted Etzebeth tackle kicked a third penalty soon after being send back onto the field and a 15-9 lead at the break.
The Springboks had a good opening spell in the second half, but some basic errors prevented them from adding to the scoreboard pressure.
The Boks called RG Snyman into action soon after the restart, replacing Marvin Orie, while Lukhanyo Am replaced Kurt-Lee Arendse and Kwagga Smith took over from Marco van Staden, but for once the bomb squad had very little impact on the last 30 minutes of the match.
The home side was guilty of unforced errors and conceded a couple of penalties on the bounce, allowing Argentina to build good territorial pressure. Some frustration also crept into the Boks’ play as the match became a scrap, something the Pumas was hoping for.
Carreras missed two long range efforts for Argentina and in quick succession, allowing the Springboks some breathing space.
The game breaker came from good pressure defence by the Boks, which forced the Pumas into some poor passing and from such a handling error, De Klerk picked it a stray pass and then send Libbok away on a 50m run. The flyhalf did not only score the five pointer but kicked the conversion as well for a 22-9 after 70 minutes.
De Allende was sent to the sin bin with eight minutes left when he slapped down a Pumas pass and the visitors exploited the space well with attacks to the left and then right flank. The latter brough a first Puma try 75 minutes in when Mateo Carreras scored in the corner. The conversion went wide and with that a last chance for the visitors to sneak a dramatic comeback, as another late burst by Gonzalo Bertranou could not close the gap for a famous win.