South Africa escaped from Salta with a narrow 33-31 Castle Lager Rugby Championship victory against Argentina on Saturday. The South Africans were keen to show what they are really made of after feeling disappointed by last week’s 13-6 victory in appalling conditions in Pretoria. By the same token, the Argentines were hoping to build on that result and they so very nearly did.
The hosts made all the early running and were rewarded with a penalty in the fourth minute that was easily converted by Nicolas Sanchez to take an early 3-0 lead. Sanchez had a chance to punish the Boks again three minutes later but pushed his effort wide. Despite dominating the opening ten minutes, Handre Pollard kicked a three-pointer for Heyneke Meyer’s side after the hosts were penalised for offside.
Los Pumas continued to pile on the pressure and after a few phases yielded no real territory gains, veteran Juan Martin Hernandez slotted a drop goal to restore the lead. Even though South Africa were playing most of the match in their own half, a second Pollard penalty meant it was all square after 22 minutes. After eight phases Manuel Montero finished off a beautiful back line move in which almost ever y player was used until the overlap found the 22-year old winger who went over in the far corner.
Sanchez curled in a superb conversion from the edge of the touchline to hand Daniel Hourcade’s side a well-deserved 13-6 lead. In spite of being outplayed, Meyer’s men stayed in touch and Pollard’s boot kept them in touch at 13-9 in the 30th minute. Fortune favoured the visitors when Bryan Habana scored in the 32nd minute.
The Argentines were attacking in South Africa’s 22 but during the seventh phase a handling error was cleared by Ruan Pienaar’s boot resulting in a two-on-one situation. Pienaar took three touches in total in true football style and Habana’s pace was enough to apply the pressure on the other side of the tryline. Pollard’s conversion handed the Springboks the lead for the first time at 16-13.
Sanchez missed his second penalty two minutes before the break from around 45 metres out. Just 15 metres from the near touchline, it was a difficult kick for the flyhalf whose effort went wide of the near post. At the break the Boks were up 16-13.
Pumas pressure paid off again in the early exchanges of the first half when scrumhalf Martin Landajo showed outstanding flexibility to pierce to South African defenders before outwrestling Wille Le Roux on his way to restoring his side’s lead. Sanchez added the extra two points to make it 20-16. Hourcade’s troops were sniffing blood when fullback Joaquin Tuculet went over in the far corner to put the hosts out of sight.
Jean De Villiers cried foul at a suspected forward pass but it was in vain as Argentina were 25-16 up and on the cusp of a first ever victory against South Africa. Sanchez missed a conversion that was from an almost identical position to the first try’s conversion point, however in the 56th minute the flyhalf kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 28-16. The away side were not going to lie down and in a desperate attempt to get themselves back into it, Cornall Hendricks beat the home defence in the near corner but his lunge for the line required a TMO decision to be called good.
Replacement Morne Steyn added the conversion and the Springboks were back in it although still trailing 28-23. De Villiers avoided a penalty and went for a kick and lineout option instead and it paid off when a big effort by the forwards saw Marcell Coetzee finish off a move in which the Pumas pack was overwhelmed. Steyn’s conversion put the Boks back in front in the 70th minute.
A long range special from centre Marcelo Bosch restored Argentina’s lead and with six minutes left on the clock it was all to play for at 31-30. Steyn slotted three more points to make it 33-31 in the dying minutes and South Africa held on for a hard-fought victory that on another day could easily have gone the other way.