South Africa maintained their 100 percent start to the 2014 Rugby Championship on Saturday, as they tiptoed past Argentina in a thriller in Salta.
The Springboks eventually emerged on the right side of a 31-33 scoreline, but it’s Argentina that will once again take the post-match limelight after a stunning, brave performance.
The hosts made a good account of themselves in their opening game against the Springboks in Pretoria, going down 13-6, and clearly came into Saturday’s clash full of confidence that they could go one better.
They certainly began their mission to do so in the perfect possible fashion too, with skipper Nicolas Sanchez converting a penalty with just five minutes on the clock.
The teams then exchanged three-point blows, with Handre Pollard kicking two penalties over either side of a Juan Martin Hernandez drop goal, before the hosts seized the initiative.
Argentina drove from a line-out of South Africa’s 22, and after good work from Juan Martin Leguizamon, Manuel Montero was set free and just had enough to dive over in the corner.
Montero has been on stunning international form recently, and as IRBJuniors revealed, his opening try of the game was his 13th in just 15 Tests:
Sanchez then did the honours with the conversion to make the score 13-6, establishing a lead that the hosts looked good value for.
However, Argentina’s Achilles' heel then came into play for the first time in the match—concentration.
The Pumas were on the attack after another Pollard penalty reduced their lead, before a knock-on gifted the Springboks the chance to attack. And attack they did, as Ruan Pienaar’s long kick down the field was seized upon by the electric Bryan Habana, who did the rest by dotting down.
Pollard kicked over from the try to send South Africa 16-13 ahead at the interval, but it was clear that the match was still very much up for grabs from an Argentina perspective—something that the Springboks’ official Twitter account noted:
The Argentines were a lot sharper than South Africa in the opening 40, particularly in the scrum, and they came out in the second half looking like a side with a point to prove.
Just seven minutes had passed in the second period before the hosts re-established their lead in Salta, with Tomas Cubelli going over after more neat build-up play.
Sanchez’s conversion made it 20-16 to the Argentines, but the party was far from over. Just three minutes later, they were on the scoreboard yet again.
This time it was Joaquin Tuculet dotting down in the corner after picking the ball up on the Springboks’ 22, which gave Argentina the 25-16 lead that their rugby truly deserved.
At that stage, it looked like an upset was on the cards in Salta, but it was hardly a surprise given the Pumas’ performance—something that the IRB’s Brett Gosper reflected on:
Tries from Cornal Hendricks and Marcell Coetzee then took the wind out of the hosts’ sails, before one of the most dramatic climaxes in Rugby Championship history played out.
At 30-28, Argentina had to go for it, and when Marcelo Bosch’s 50-yard penalty went in between the posts, the shock was well and truly on at 31-30.
However, a matter of seconds later, Morne Steyn’s penalty gave the Springboks the last laugh, as his three points were enough to see the visitors over the line in a 33-31 victory.
Despite the result, the headlines will go to Argentina for the bravery that they displayed on the night. Such a performance will stand them in good stead heading into the rest of the Rugby Championship.
They’ll need every bit of passion, aggression and professionalism in them for Week 3 of the competition, as they travel to New Zealand to face the All Blacks, but it’s safe to say that their tag of the whipping boys has certainly been shifted.