Pumas expose Bok flaws
Gavin Rich
August 27, 2016

If anyone ever doubted that Springbok rugby was in free fall, they should have had those doubts expelled by Argentina’s 26-24 win over their once mighty foe in the second round of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship in Salta on Saturday.

Argentina in Durban. Japan in Brighton. Argentina in Salta. Those are three of the defeats suffered by the Boks in the last year. You want to add another one? Okay, then let’s add to that Ireland in Cape Town. That was a record. It was Ireland’s first win in South Africa. And Saturday night was a record too. A first ever defeat to Argentina in Argentina. A lot of records. None of them good for the Boks.

The Pumas had to rely on a late penalty to get home, but few who watched the game would deny it was anything less than the home team deserved. When it came to flair, attacking innovation, and until the last quarter perhaps, domination of the breakdown points, it was all Argentina. The Boks could have snuck a win at the death, but it would have been an injustice to the hosts.

It simply wasn’t a night of positives for a Bok team that looks mediocre and which up to this point managed to clutch to several get out of jail cards to keep themselves on the winning side against sides that don’t amount to much compared to what is to come – but eventually your luck has to run out, and it did.

The Boks did well to fight back from a 10 point deficit at one stage, and they did come close to setting up a situation where once again the coaches could have been talking about heroic come-backs and commitment and passion. But then perhaps it was a good result for South Africa – good in the sense that talking about commitment and character when you are playing against Argentina is really rubbish, and it is time to face reality.

Since Allister Coetzee took charge of the Boks they’ve displayed no clear plan and assumed no clear identity, and although this was only their second defeat in five, it could easily have been five. You can try and be nice and take the sunshine journalism approach, but that would simply be untruthful. The SuperSport analysts in the studio on Saturday night had it right – it simply wasn’t good enough.

Eventually the Pumas had to rely on a late penalty from Santiago Gonzalez to get home, but in reality they were much the better team for most of the 80 minutes. The real story behind their win was that they lost several good and influential players to injury in the second half, and yet still managed to pull through even though it was clear that the Boks had the far superior bench.

The Pumas led 13-3 at the break, and the Boks did well to strike back straight after halftime through a well worked try from Bryan Habana. That try, which included a superb back flip pass from Francois Louw, had all the hall-marks of the big question that should be bugging Bok fans – why do the Boks suddenly click when they are behind? For a while, and just a while mind you, the Boks played Lions rugby and looked like they might win. It was the recipe for the second half of the Johannesburg test against the Irish all over again.

But then Morne Steyn came onto the field for Elton Jantjies. Huh? The question is worth asking. Steyn was there for his kicking, but he missed as many as he succeeded with. And any chance of the Boks burying the Pumas with a quick paced Lions-style running game such as that which buried the Irish in the second half of the second test was lost.

So the question is – what are the Boks trying to do? Unfortunately the answer seems to be that they simply do not know. And that might be the key to why they are floundering at present. They need to get some clarity, and quickly, or they are in for a long 80 minutes when they get to play New Zealand in a couple of weeks from now. They play Australia before that, and even that – mediocre though the Wallabies are at the moment – is going to be tough on the evidence of what we saw in Salta.

The Argentina loose trio became more dominant and influential the longer the first half lasted, and the Boks were fortunate to only be 10 points behind at the break. Although Elton Jantjies missed a penalty kick on the stroke of halftime, it was the Pumas who enjoyed and wasted all the first half opportunities – three of them to be precise. The Boks had none.

That it might be a long night for the Boks became evident when it was apparent that the scrums, which were dominated by the Boks in Nelspruit the week before, were going to be a mess with no clear ascendancy being established by either side.

Without the massive advantage they enjoyed in that phase the previous week, the Boks frankly looked lost, and didn’t deserve anything more than the three points they had behind them at halftime.

The first 20 minutes of the game were completely forgettable, with neither side being able to create any sort of sustained pressure. The Boks did have some good moments, but none that looked like they would lead to a try. The Pumas by contrast butchered a great opportunity that was created off a switch set move from an attacking scrum when the ball was lost on the line in the 16th minute.

The Pumas gained momentum in the second quarter of the game, and this despite the fact that they were down to 14 men after Ramiro Herrero was yellow carded, with the Boks taking a 3-0 lead at that point from the resultant penalty, which was kicked by Jantjies.

Nicholas Sanchez quickly drew the Pumas level and then kicked another penalty in the 29th minute to give the Pumas the lead for the first time. No-one watching would have denied that it was anything less than they deserved, as at that point the game was being dominated by the Argentine loose-forwards.

The Pumas were supreme when it came to attacking flair and innovation against a Bok team that still looks like it is between games – much like the Stormers appeared to be for much of Coetzee’s reign at the Cape franchise – and it wouldn’t have come as any surprise that they scored the first try off a move that started deep inside their own half. Fullback Joaquin Tuculet was the man who rounded it off.

The Bok defence was one of several areas where they were found wanting, and too frequently the Pumas were able to ghost through gaps that shouldn’t have been there.

The Boks did fight back to 13-all but then came a superb cross kick that set up a well taken try for Manuel Leguizamon, followed by a Juan-Martin Hernandez penalty that re-established the 10 point buffer.

As was the case last week, Pieter-Steph du Toit was outstanding when he came on as a replacement and made a quantum difference to the Bok performance. It was he who dotted down the Boks’ second half try, and Coetzee should really consider starting him at blindside flank if he wants to dominate at the start of his game like his team somehow managed to towards the end.

Stephen Kitshoff also made a difference when he came on, as did Jaco Kriel, but in the end the Pumas had the commitment, the heroism and the character that the Boks love to talk about – and it got them through. They deserved to win. The Boks have lots of thinking to do. And no doubt some bloody-minded selection choices to make too before they play Australia two weeks from now.


Argentina 26 - Tries: Joaquin Tuculet and Manuel Leguizamon; Conversions: Nicholas Sanchez and Juan Martin Hernandez; Penalties: Nicholas Sanchez 2, Juan-Martin Hernandez and Santiago Iglesias Gonzalez.

South Africa 24 – Tries: Bryan Habana and Pieter-Steph du Toit; Conversion: Johan Goosen; Penalties: Elton Jantjies 2, Morne Steyn 2.

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17:05 - South Africa vs Australia
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Saturday, July 27 2019
09:35 - New Zealand vs South Africa
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Saturday, August 10 2019
00:00 - Argentina vs South Africa
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Saturday, August 17 2019
17:05 - South Africa vs Argentina
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Friday, September 06 2019
00:00 - Japan vs South Africa
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