Springboks survive Salta scare

Date published: August 23 2014

South Africa kept their Rugby Championship title hopes alive with a hard-fought 33-31 victory over Argentina in Salta on Saturday.

South Africa kept their Rugby Championship title hopes alive with a hard-fought 33-31 victory over Argentina in Salta on Saturday.

The sides scored three tries apiece in a ding-dong battle that saw the Boks came back from 28-16 down to snatch victory.

But did they deserve the win? Only the most biased Bok fan could suggest so.

Unlike last week's rain-affected clash in Pretoria, South Africa could not use the weather as an excuse this time as, under blue skies, they were outmuscled and outplayed at their own game for the better part of an hour.

Behind the fired-up pack that was consistently going forward, Nicolás Sánchez and Juan Martín Hernández were putting runners into space and keeping the Boks pinned back in their own half with clever kicks.

Expecting to be able to speed the game up from from last week's slugfest, the Boks looked rattled as it was their hosts who took the initiative and desperate scrambling defence was required to keep the blue and white jerseys at bay.

Humiliated at scrum time, the Springboks would have considered themselves fortunate to be leading 16-13 at the interval having been on the wrong end of the territory and possession statistics.

Indeed, los Pumas were the better team in the first half, dominating at scrum time and scoring the first try through Manuel Montero, only to see the Boks snatch the lead back thanks to a Bryan Habana try against the run of play.

Tries from replacement scrum-half Tomás Cubelli and full-back Joaquin Tuculet after the break saw Argentina take the game by the scruff of the neck against the shell-shocked tourists.

But the Pumas ran out of puff in the last quarter as tries from wing Cornal Hendricks and replacement flank Marcell Coetzee saw South Africa edge ahead.

Argentina were first to score when Sánchez split the uprights after Bismarck du Plessis was penalised at a ruck. The hosts' early lead could have been doubled after Jannie du Plessis was found wanting at scrum time but Sánchez was off target.

Handrè Pollard levelled the scores after Juan Leguizamón was caught offside but the Pumas had their tails up and Hernández restored their lead with a neat drop-goal to give Argentina a deserved 6-3 lead ahead of the first water break on 20 minutes.

Pollard could once again draw his team level after a Bok maul was pulled down illegally but Argentina replied with the first try of the game as Montero finished off a patient build-up out wide, shrugging off Hendricks' tackle to bag his 13th try in 15 Tests.

Sánchez added the extras and Argentina were good value for their lead at 13-6.

The Boks picked up their third penalty from as many incursions into Argentine territory as Tomás Lavanini went off his feet and Pollard knocked it over, but the momentum was with los Pumas.

South Africa moved in front for the first time as Habana scored an opportunistic try. Ruan Pienaar hacked ahead a loose ball inside his own half, followed up, toed it forward ahead again and Habana had the gas to win the race.

Pollard's conversion gave the visitors a three-point lead, but they had to defend very hard before heading to the changing rooms a relieved side.

Argentina charged ahead after the break as Cubelli sneaked between Lood de Jager and Bismarck du Plessis to touch down.

Sánchez added the conversion before Tuculet shrugged off both South Africa's centres to score in the corner and give Argentina a nine-point lead.

Another penalty – this time against Francois Louw for hands in a ruck – allowed Sánchez to put the hosts further ahead at 28-16.

The swing in momentum South Africa needed came on the hour mark as Hendricks stretched out an arm to just get the ball onto the whitewash. Morné Steyn added the conversion from the touchline.

A textbook Springbok maul saw Coetzee touch down with Steyn's extra's sneaking the visitors back in front.

A tense finish saw Argentina regain the lead via a long-range penalty from Marcelo Bosch – for late tackle by Bakkies Botha – but Steyn replied three minutes from time after the Pumas were pinged for a ruck infringement.

It was another case of so near and yet so far for the Pumas as they remain winless after 14 matches in the southern hemisphere championship.

Man of the match: Springboks flank Francois Louw deserves a mention for his defensive effort but the standout players were in the home side. The front row was incredible and Juan Manuel Leguizamón was a huge ball carrier. But we'll go for Nicolás Sánchez who, for the second week, was the most dangerous player.

Moment of the match: South Africa looked down and out until Cornal Hendricks' try which swung the momentum in their favour. It was a case of millimetres, but he just got rubber onto whitewash.

Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report

The scorers:

For Argentina:
Tries: Montero, Cubelli, Tuculet
Cons: Sánchez 2
Pens: Sánchez 2, Bosch
Drop: Hernández

For South Africa:
Tries: Habana, Hendricks, Coetzee
Cons: Pollard, Steyn 2
Pens: Pollard 3

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Lucas González Amorosino, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 7 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Matías Cortese, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 23 Horacio Agulla.

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handrè Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Juan Smith, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Gurthrö Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Bakkies Botha, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morné Steyn, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.

Venue: Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium, Salta
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)