Argentina vs. South Africa: Winners and Losers from Rugby Championship
A valiant effort from the home side saw Argentina lose to South Africa 33-31 in Salta on Saturday, as Daniel Hourcade's men missed out on what would have been a maiden win over the Springboks.
It was an even tighter affair than the fixture that unfolded in Pretoria's Round 1 meeting. Tries from Bryan Habana, Cornal Hendricks and Marcell Coetzee saw Heyneke Meyer's visitors through the storm.
With even bigger tests to come for both teams in this year's Rugby Championship, we break down the positives and negatives from the result.
Winners: Argentina Prove Their Southern Hemisphere Credentials
Heartbreaking though it will be for the Pumas to miss out on what would have been not only a maiden Rugby Championship win but a maiden win over South Africa too, the Argentines can hold their heads high following Saturday's display.
Following the wipeouts of recent years, murmurs have circulated, discussing whether or not Argentina belong on the same stage as their fellow Southern Hemisphere elite.
New Zealand, Australia and South Africa are assuredly still above Tier 1 Argentina, but the essential lesson from Saturday's two-point defeat is that the gap is growing ever smaller.
At one point, Hourcade's stubborn bunch looked not only capable of stealing a lead and hoping for the best but pushing past that barrier and extending themselves, perhaps too far in the end.
But ultimately those ambitions to contend on the biggest stage will produce results, and it was unfortunate to have not yielded fruit on this occasion.
Losers: Daniel Hourcade's Error-Strewn Outfit Still Needs Revision in Attack
One could debate that Argentina's failure to convert scoring opportunities on Saturday was a product of their own profligacy or merely due to stingy South African defending.
By all means, the South Americans could have had a great deal more impact on the scoreboard, but it was their own waste in chances that once again restricted their threat.
According to Ruckin Good Stats, 59 percent of play was spent in the Springboks' half, and yet the Pumas managed to only score points from four of their 10 ventures into enemy territory.
South Africa, on the other hand, held a significantly higher success rate, adding to their points tally in six of their nine assaults on the host's half.
Defensively, Argentina are showing the passion to hold their own, but a substantial shortcoming in the technical centre continues to separate them from their peers by margins as slim as two points.
Winners: Pumas Pack Prevails Once Again at Set Piece
It was a rousing aspect of their performance at Loftus Versfeld last week, and once again Argentina showed their scrummaging chops in Salta—except this time with all the more potency.
In total, the home outfit only had three scrum feeds of their own, winning all of them, but the really important figure here came in pushing South Africa off their feed no less than four times.
Considering the Springboks only had six scrums in total, that's an impressive ratio and shows a foundation that gives Argentina an intimidating edge as they go about their evolution.
Losers: Heyneke Meyer's Fly-Half Dilemma
Another similar tale came in seeing Handre Pollard once again get silence below his usual volume, as he was restrained by a high, pressing Pumas line that at times turned the screw on Meyer's men.
At Argentina's most threatening, the closing down of the hosts forced South Africa into numerous mistake-ridden patches. Their fly-half struggled in kind, hardly attempting to carry at all, which is one of his most attractive traits as a No. 10.
It was a case of different week, same story as Morne Steyn came on to give a more calming presence in the playmaking role. Hendricks scorched over for his try just four minutes after the veteran's introduction.
Despite having only a 25-minute cameo, Steyn was present for two of his visitors' three tries, and while one might argue that to be coincidence, nerves were less noticeable with him waiting as receiver.
Winners: South American Surroundings Light Argentina's Flame
If the All Blacks, Wallabies and Springboks are learning anything from their Rugby Championship trials, it's that this Argentine crowd knows how to create a cauldron atmosphere.
Not only is that significant as a reference to the sky-high temperatures on hand in northwest Argentina but of the South Americans' ability to summon up a more beastly version of themselves on home turf.
Granted, they've also seen a fair number of blowouts in their own backyard, but the side can take heart from the tighter results—those valuable losing bonus points.
In the past three summers, the Pumas have now kept four of their seven home defeats within a seven-point margin—the most impressive of which remains the 2012 draw against South Africa.
The heart is evident when away from home, too, but something about performing in familiar territory has a great impact on the Pumas' passion—as it does for most sides, but seemingly on a more immense scale for Argentina.