Rugby Championship: Five takeaways from South Africa v Argentina as the two Frans’ endure contrasting games

James While

Following a 38-21 victory for South Africa over Argentina in their Rugby Championship clash, here’s our five takeaways from the match in Durban.

The top line

In a match littered with errors, yellow cards and physicality over creativity, South Africa disposed of Argentina in Durban, with scores from Jasper Wiese, Siya Kolisi, Kurt-Lee Arendse and two penalty tries from the ever-present whistle of referee Damon Murphy.

The biggest difference in the match was scrum power and that was the platform that gave the Boks superiority. At times, their rolling maul stuttered (especially when Eben Etzebeth was in the bin) and their lineout was less than its certain self, with a number of squint throws from Malcolm Marx resulting in turnovers.

However, knowing they had to win by 39 points to take the 2022 Rugby Championship, it was somewhat perplexing why the Springboks didn’t go for gold and run the ball to score the points needed. That in itself probably underlines just how well Argentina played at times, but those leaving Kings Park tonight won’t be excited about the win, they’ll be wondering what could have been.

The piano pusher

There’s a rumour around rugby that when the Springbok dietician was sent home recently for alleged indiscretions, big tighthead Frans Malherbe was heard to comment, “I didn’t know we had a dietician…”

There’s something reassuringly old school about the prop – a physique built for his personal comfort (if not that of his opponents), a ruck and maul master but when scrum time comes around, he is one of the most perfect technical big men around.

Last weekend in Buenos Aires, rather surprisingly he came off very much second best, especially later in the game against Tomas Gallo. He conceded numerous penalties under pressure, and, horror of horrors, was even shunted backwards a few times.

But this weekend he turned up and turned up big time as his massive scrummaging performance was the key to the Bok win. Penalty after penalty came as Malherbe drove in and tucked the Argentinian loosehead under his bear-like shoulders and his focus on maintaining shape and direction for the Wiese try was a textbook lesson in legality.

With all the modern analysis and metrics in the game, one thing in rugby is a constant – a great tighthead is worth his weight in gold and in Malherbe’s case, that makes up rather a lot of bullion.

Argentinian pride

Again Argentina have a lot of good things to take out of this game. Their defence at times was superb, they won the aerial battle and bossed the drop zone, but the hammering they took at scrumtime against a world-class set-piece simply meant that at every point of the match they were trying to play catch up rugby.

Frustratingly, time and time again they conceded the same penalties: three for binding on the leg at maul time, four for collapsing the maul (and two penalty tries with matching yellow cards). No side can win with coach-killing errors time and time again removing momentum. A total of 24 penalties conceded in a match is twice what a good side should be registering.

Away from discipline, again their backline provided some lovely moments, and the man who can’t stop scoring – young flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez – will be rewinding his sidestep on Willie le Roux all the way home on the flight back.

Los Pumas have emerged out of this year’s campaign with a lot of pluses, the biggest one being that they can score tries against anyone from anywhere on the pitch.

The piano player

For the other Frans in the team, the one of the Steyn variety, it was a game that showed the deep limitations he now has as a Test rugby player. Out of position, out of shape and out of gas, any suggestion of South Africa playing for the 39-point win they needed ended whenever the ball came his way. His one thundering run into contact saw him stripped of the ball and the number of times he passed to his back division could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

With his play so obviously off the mark, the Springboks hampered themselves by picking a 6-2 bench but, with the points difference needed well known before the match, it’s a surprise that Jacques Nienaber didn’t at least try changing something up – maybe even playing Faf de Klerk at 10.

It was a selection based on romance and nostalgia and one that South Africa must never repeat again, despite Steyn’s incredible contribution to Springbok rugby.

Yellow cards

Again, a match was played with a litany of cards from the referee – six in this instance. Now don’t think for one moment that we are criticising the actual cards, the key here is that there are far too many offences that now appear to warrant a sin-bin. It is ruining the flow of rugby and the numerical advantages (that depend on the whim and judgment of a referee) are influencing the results far too often.

As the international game pauses, please let World Rugby look as to how they can remove as many cards as possible, but retain legality and safety. It’s a big challenge, but eradicating instant yellows for deliberate knock-ons and penalty tries might be a good start.

READ MORE: New Zealand win title despite South Africa’s victory over Argentina