Argentina vs. South Africa: 6 Things We Learned
Just as they did 12 months ago, Argentina posed much more of an obstacle to South Africa when playing in front of a home crowd but were again unable to come up with the goods in a 22-17 home defeat.
Heyneke Meyer's Springboks were never really permitted to get into their stride, but eventually, they kicked their way to victory through Morne Steyn, grabbing their first away win in the Rugby Championship or Tri Nations since winning the latter in 2009.
In such a tight defeat, the Pumas can learn some lessons having put in all the groundwork just to come out with nothing, while South Africa won't be happy with such a sloppy showing.
Argentine Ball Retention in Far Better Shape
In the first week of this year’s Rugby Championship, possession (or a lack thereof) played a massive part in Argentina’s 73-13 loss to South Africa.
The Pumas failed to ever really get a steady grip on the ball and were punished at the breakdown in Cape Town, often losing what chance they did have to move forward. However, that aspect of their play looked to be massively improved in Mendoza, as Santiago Phelan’s side went in at halftime with more than 60 percent of the territory.
That being said, Argentina still need to make better use of their forward movements when they are in possession and were forced to kick in enemy territory on numerous occasions after simply running short of ideas.
There’s certainly a long way to go before the South Americans can be considered anywhere near as stingy as their tournament opponents when carrying the ball, but the likes of Felipe Contepomi and Gonzalo Camacho helped tide things over in the back line.
New Scrum Laws Still Going Through Growing Pains
As was expected to be the case for just about all Southern Hemisphere teams in this Rugby Championship, the new scrum laws are taking some adjusting to this summer.
With a new, supposedly safer set of regulations coming into effect, all forwards—from prop to No. 8—are having to learn a new method of engagement at the set-piece, as is explained by B/R’s Terence O’Rorke.
However, it isn’t just the players who are struggling with the new ways, after referee Steve Walsh made the wrong call at one scrum and was forced to apologise for his mistake.
It’s likely to be some time yet, a period filled with growing pains, before South Africa, Argentina and even the officials are accustomed to the new ways of things when scrumming down, as was evident once again this Saturday.
Springboks Defence Not Quite as Stingy
To score more than 70 points against any side is a magnificent achievement at the international level, but to do so while conceding just 13 is an even more impressive testament to a side’s defence.
However, the tapestry unravelled in far different fashion in Argentina, as South Africa’s pressing defence struggled to cope quite as comfortably.
Thus was the exact same story 12 months ago in Mendoza, and the Pumas somehow managed to make themselves more of a threat when moving forward with the ball this weekend.
Conceding inside the first few minute of the match, the Springboks showed from the very beginning just how much more open they were to a far more dynamic Argentina attack.
Morne Steyn Cementing His Place as World’s Most Accurate Kicker
Having finished the 2013 Super Rugby regular season as top points scorer, there’s no defying Morne Steyn’s incredible kicking ability, with the Bulls benefitting greatly as a result.
While the No. 10 doesn't have the same running presence that the likes of Dan Carter or Quade Cooper might present when playing at fly-half, Steyn continues to exude calmness, especially when in front of a tee.
The 29-year-old almost single-handedly led his Springboks outfit to Mendoza triumph in the end, slotting 17 of their 22 points through the posts himself and grabbing five of five penalties, as well as his one conversion.
Steyn will be an essential character for South Africa in the pressure games, something Saturday's most recent offering certainly was. However, a little more might be required against New Zealand and Australia.
Backs Lacking Fluidity from Both Sides
In near opposite custom to Week 1’s meeting in Cape Town, South Africa truly struggled in replicating the same attacking efficiency this weekend, particularly in their backs.
Whereas Jean de Villiers, JJ Engelbrecht and Bryan Habana got a very decent chunk of chances in South Africa, the Springboks had to fight in order to get the ball out wide when playing in Mendoza, thanks in large to the fact that they simply didn’t have enough of the ball.
That being said, even when there was a chance to spread ball wide, South Africa were piled under pressure and were restrained high up the pitch for the majority.
The home team didn’t fare much better and kept the ball within their pack for decent stretches apart from the odd break through the likes of Nicolas Sanchez and Gonzalo Camacho.
The Pumas' only scores came from short bursts of play as opposed to prolonged phases of back movements. It's an area that both management teams can consider to be in need of improvement after Saturday’s display.
Mendoza Atmosphere a Huge Impact
As was evident from the first minute, the tense environment of the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas proved itself to be a substantial factor this weekend.
Although one can argue the true effect of home support, the South Americans have one advantage of being the one opponent that none of the other Rugby Championship participants won’t be as used to travelling to, making for a different occasion entirely.
As soon as Argentina were put on the front foot as a result of their early try, a fire lit in the belly of most of those in attendance at the Mendoza venue, igniting the hosts’ team in kind.
Passion and patriotic unity are notions linked closely with numerous South American nations, and while Phelan’s Pumas won’t be considered the most talented side in the competition, their support can at least be expected to rival any other in the tournament.