South Africa overcame a poor opening half an hour to record an emphatic 63-9 victory over a subdued Argentina at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday, giving Nelson Mandela the perfect 90th birthday present.
For thirty minutes it looked as if Argentina had forgotten the script as they edged into a nine-point lead to leave the Springbok faithful a touch nervous. But once South Africa found their rhythm Argentina had no answer to their host's attacking intent - not through a lack of skill but rather a lack of fitness.
South Africa are in the middle of their international season, whilst Argentina came into this game with the bulk of their players in the middle of pre-season training with their clubs. Once South Africa got the better of their guests it was only ever going to be a case of how many points. Argentina simply didn't have the fitness to live with the Boks at altitude.
But whilst their lungs were fresh the Pumas gave South Africa a severe wake-up call, if they are to win the Tri-Nations they can ill afford to play as badly as they did in the opening thirty minutes. Too often passes went astray, balls were lost in contact and tackles were not made to great effect. On top of that the South Africans' lack of discipline proved costly.
Felipe Contepomi kicked three from four penalties to give his side a healthy lead after half an hour, only for it to amount to little more than a scant consolation as the Springboks ran riot in the final sixty minutes.
It took a poor pass from Enrico Januarie to spark the Springboks into life. As the ball skidded along the floor to Jean de Villiers the Argentine defence paused for a second, allowing De Villiers to exploit the gap and send Adrian Jacobs over for a fine opening score. Butch James kicked the first of nine conversions to narrow the gap to two.
Two minutes later and the Springboks were in front, thanks to a fine solo try from debutante Jongi Nokwe. The Cheetahs wing gathered the ball on the blue 22 before dancing his way past two defenders and cruising over to give his side the lead.
The score remained at 14-9 until half-time, but after the break it was more one-way traffic from the home side. Clearly Argentina were not up to scratch as they progressively grew worse in defence, allowing South Africa to exploit them almost at will.
It took only three minutes of the second half for Pierre Spies to extend the lead, superbly gathering a hack ahead from JP Pietersen to put daylight between the two sides. The game was put beyond doubt when Pietersen himself cruised through a gaping hole in the Pumas defence to score his side's fourth try.
Bok boss Peter de Villiers saw that as the perfect time to introduce some fresh legs, bringing on Fourie du Preez and Jaque Fourie. Sadly for Fourie his game would end within ten minutes as he was forced from the field with a suspected fractured cheekbone. Du Preez on the other hand marked a fine cameo appearance with a try with just his second touch of the ball.
His return will spark a mass debate as to who should play at scrum-half against the All Blacks next week. Januarie has proven he is worthy of a spot in the side, but not at Du Preez's expense. The Blue Bulls half-back added an extra dimension to the Springboks back-line when he came on and allowed them to attack with quicker ball.
The question is who does De Villiers prefer, will he stick with the tried and tested Januarie or look to win the game gambling on the more exciting Du Preez? We will soon find out.
Another area in which he will have reason to think is at second row. If Bakkies Botha fails to recover from the injury that forced him off in the first half Andries Bekker will step into the breach. But based on today's efforts there is a strong case for Bekker to start regardless of Botha's fitness, South Africa can't afford to lose out on a player of Bekker's ability in favour of Botha's one-dimensional approach.
Argentine heads dropped following Du Preez's try and further tries were added through Joe Van Niekerk (2), Bismarck du Plessis and a second for Pietersen. Van Niekerk scored his brace within two minutes of coming on to leave Argentina facing their biggest ever defeat at the hands of the Springboks.
It was hardly surprising to see All Blacks scouts in the stands, as their team trained for the first time since arriving in Cape Town on Friday, recording the game to analyse next week's opposition. On the evidence of this showing they will be confident of picking up their first away win of this season's Tri-Nations.
In truth South Africa were average. The opening half an hour, when Argentina were fresh, highlighted several weaknesses in their game, and although they ran in nine tries the majority came when their under-cooked opponents were failing to stay with the pace of the game. A repeat of the opening thirty next week and the All Blacks will be leaving for home with five points and a smile on their faces.
Plenty for Peter de Villiers to think about this week then as Graham Henry looks to take revenge for the 30-28 defeat dished out in Dunedin.
Man of the Match: Argentina fought bravely but had few standout performers, with Juan Manuel Leguizamón the pick of their side. For the Springboks Tendai Mtawarira shone in the scrum, Jongi Nokwe was impressive on debut and Conrad Jantjes was as solid as ever. But it was Luke Watson who stole the show with his action-packed display to soften the loss of Schalk Burger. Watson was so often the link man in all that was good for the Springboks and did his fair share of work at the breakdown too.
Moment of the Match: If it wasn't for Enrico Januarie's wild pass from the base of the scrum that flew over Butch James' head South Africa might never have got going. As it was Jean de Villiers scooped it up before racing away to send Adrian Jacobs in for the try - a score that opened the floodgates. A special mention should also go to the Ledesma brothers, Mario and younger brother Pedro, who in the sixth minute packed down together for the first ever time in international rugby.
Villain of the Match: There was the usual petulant fists thrown from Bakkies Botha in the early exchanges, but nothing to warrant this ghastly gong. Instead we will rather give it to the moneymen who organised this match. Apart from giving Nelson Mandela a nice present this game was pointless. Argentina were in pre-season training and were never going to present a serious challenge for a match-fit Springbok side in the midst of the Tri-Nations.
For South Africa:
Tries: Jacobs, Nokwe, Spies, Du Preez, Du Plessis, Van Niekerk 2, Pietersen 2
Cons: James 9
Pens: Contepomi 3
South Africa: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Jongi Nokwe, 10 Butch James, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha,3 CJ van der Linde, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Brian Mujati, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Joe van Niekerk, 20 Fourie du Preez, 21 Jaque Fourie, 22 Percy Montgomery.
Argentina: 15 Bernardo Stortoni, 14 José María Núñez Piossek, 13 Federico Martín Aramburu, 12 Miguel Avramovic, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Felipe Contepomi (c), 9 Nicolás Vergallo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Martín Durand, 5 Patricio Albacete, 4 Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 3 Pedro Ledesma, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Alberto Vernet Basualdo, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Esteban Lozada, 19 Álvaro Galindo, 20 Alfredo Lalanne, 21 Benjamín Urdapilleta, 22 Rafael Carballo.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Matt Goddard (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)
Television match official: Geoff Warren (England)
Assessor: Tappe Henning (IRB)
By Marcus Leach