South Africa finished their Rugby Championship campaign with a hard-fought 22-21 victory over Argentina at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Los Pumas will rue their missed attempts at goal as Santiago Carreras had a disappointing outing off the tee, missing two penalties and one conversion.
Mateo Carreras and Gonzalo Bertranou scored Argentina’s tries but it was too little too late for the visitors as South Africa had a cushion to cling on to.
That was because of tries from Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende and Manie Libbok, with the latter kicking two conversions and a penalty goal as well.
It was a concerning opening minute for the Springboks when scrum-half Grant Williams was escorted off the field on a stretcher after being knocked out while looking to clear his lines from the kick off. Pumas full-back Juan Cruz Mallia’s flying attempt led to him colliding with the number nine who came off second best.
Faf de Klerk was his replacement but it wasn’t long before his half-back partner, Libbok, was caught offside and Santiago Carreras moved his side 3-0 up.
Their lead was doubled in the 10th minute after Kurt-Lee Arendse was penalised for not rolling away and Carreras made no mistake from range.
South Africa would regroup and Libbok halved the deficit two minutes later with a straightforward penalty from in front, much to the home fans’ delight.
That effort was added to by the first try of the game on 19 minutes when Willie le Roux found Etzebeth on the right wing, who trampled over the would-be tackler before diving over for a memorable crossing. Libbok was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt but South Africa had their noses in front by two points.
The hosts’ tails were now well and truly up and they set about turning the screw, inside centre De Allende doubling their try account with a score at the back of a rolling maul as the half-hour approached. Libbok slotted the extra two points and suddenly the Springboks had a 15-6 cushion at a raucous Ellis Park.
Carreras did cut that gap to six with his third penalty of the game a minute before the break before Arendse went close to crossing just prior to half-time.
The second half continued to be physical and Argentina were largely dominant but could not turn pressure into points as Santiago Carreras was wasteful.
He missed an attempt on 48 minutes and again just after the hour mark, with those wayward kicks coming back to haunt the visitors with 11 minutes to go.
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Los Pumas were chancing their arm at this point with ball in hand and under heavy contact and pressure from the Boks, the ball came loose and was gathered by De Klerk. The scrum-half set off from just outside his 22 but swiftly realised that Libbok had the pace to cruise over and handed his fly-half a run to the line.
Libbok’s conversion moved the Springboks 22-9 to the good and despite Los Pumas hitting back through Mateo Carreras on 75 minutes, this after De Allende was yellow carded for deliberately knocking down the ball, Santiago Carreras’ missed extras from wide out crucially kept the margin above one score at 22-14.
That meant Argentina were only playing for a losing bonus-point in the final minute which, to their credit, they claimed thanks to Bertranou darting over from close range. This time the conversion was successful but Los Pumas had come up short, with South Africa hanging on to finish in second place in the table.