Boks down Pumas, but fail in their Rugby Championship quest | Sport


  • The Springboks beat Argentina 38-21 at Kings Park, but the success wasn’t enough to give them the Rugby Championship.
  • They needed to win by 39 clear points, but a desperately imperfect and uncreative display meant they didn’t even get close.
  • The performance summed up their Rugby Championship campaign and their Southern Hemisphere season where they couldn’t translate dominance into points.

In Durban

The Springboks beat Argentina 38-21 in their Rugby Championship clash, but it wasn’t enough to wrestle the trophy away from New Zealand.

The display summed up the Boks’ tournament and their Southern Hemisphere season in general as they simply couldn’t translate their dominance into points.

This meant one of, if not the weakest and most vulnerable All Black sides of the professional era won the Rugby Championship by simply being better at converting their opportunities.

That the Springboks are a good side isn’t in dispute, but in a game where they needed to be forthright, purposeful, and resourceful, they failed in all three departments.

They’ll look at this tournament as the one that truly got away from them and the blame lies squarely at their door.

Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber has plenty of thinking to do as the end-of-year tour contains clashes against Ireland, France and England that will come with their own set of pressing questions.

It was rather ironic, but also fitting that the Boks’ final points tally ended up a point short of the 39 they needed if they’d kept a clean sheet against the Pumas.

New Zealand’s 40-14 win against Australia in Auckland made South Africa’s job a tough one considering the Boks hardly converted their dominance into points.

The Boks tried, at times too much as their distant target meant they needed to come out of their chrysalis of caution.

That led to a passionate performance that was also nervous, hurried, and thoroughly lacking in precision, especially in the back division.

Fran Steyn, playing in his first Test at 10 since 2008, epitomised the Boks’ lack of clear-mindedness with an iffy showing.

Having cut his teeth at the Sharks, it wasn’t the homecoming he expected, even though the capacity crowd constantly cheered him on.

Kings Park turns on its charm

Kings Park may have its capacity reduced to 46 000 because of cosmetics that have indeed enhanced the stadium experience, but there hardly was a grey seat in sight as Durban finally warmed up to the occasion of a Bok Test.

The four-year absence of Test rugby was felt, and it indeed made hearts very much fonder.

They were far less aggressive than the Tshwane, Johannesburg, and Mbombela crowds (Durban doesn’t do Highveld aggression), but they were noisy, festive, and joyful nonetheless.

After all, a red carpet in the form of pre-match entertainment that catered to everyone, was rolled out.

The nerves set in, along with inaccuracy

It was the most nervous of starts from the Springboks. A wrap-around they tried, despite having a penalty advantage from a maul, wasn’t well read by Damian de Allende.

The ensuing penalty wasn’t kicked into touch and Steyn had a kick charged down. All of this happened in the first three minutes of the game.

The capacity crowd was far from pleased, but that also showed the Boks were human. However, those lapses in concentration allowed the Pumas the early foothold they needed.

They nearly had a chance in the sixth minute when 2015 hat trick hero Juan Imhoff had a one-on-one with youngster Canan Moodie.

Moodie, who was still at school when Imhoff put the then fresh Jesse Kriel to school, made the tackle and the Boks were clear of danger.

The early try that set in motion the 2015 train-wreck was avoided, but the points chase indeed had the Boks on edge.

Then comes the try

Once the Boks asserted their scrum dominance, the penalties flowed, one of which led to an Eben Etzebeth 11th-minute try that was chalked off because of offsides by Australian referee Damon Murphy.

The first try eventually came from Jasper Wiese in the 19th minute from a pushover scrum as the Pumas were made to pay for their repeated indiscretions when loose-forward Marcos Kremer was yellow-carded three minutes earlier.

Steyn though wasn’t having the best of games, overcooking two other penalties and dropping a pass in the 23rd minute.

It seemed, like he did back against Italy 14 years ago in his last start at 10, like he was trying too hard instead of keeping things simple.

What the Boks did right for the entire first half was to milk every scrum for a penalty, advantages that weren’t capitalised on by Steyn’s wonky touch kicking.

The Boks score again, but let Argentina in

That was handed to Willie le Roux and from there, the Boks scored their second try from a rolling maul through captain Siya Kolisi in the 29th minute.

After this try, the Boks’ defensive resolve was tested and they came through with flying colours and when Steyn drilled a 52m penalty in the 38th minute, the Boks neared the halfway mark of their target.

However, they flopped at a lineout and Argentina’s quick recycle saw nippy halfback Gonzalo Bertranou score on the stroke of half-time.

The try meant the Boks needed to be on 46 points and it didn’t help that, like in Buenos Aires, they allowed the Pumas to dictate the flow and the pace of the game.

The target starts getting further

They were duly punished when flank Juan Martin Gonzalez, who was yellow-carded in the 26th minute, hared down the left-hand touchline, stepped Le Roux silly, and dotted down in the 46th minute.

Emiliano Boffelli’s second conversion meant the Boks’ target now moved up to 53 and they needed to get there within 30 minutes.

The issue was that the Boks haven’t breached 50 under Nienaber, so this became quite the tallest of orders.

It required the Boks to remain calm, be accurate and also speed up the game, qualities that can’t always be associated with the Boks.

They did have a smidgen of accuracy when they converted a 55th-minute penalty into a penalty try as the Argentinians couldn’t stop a rolling maul.

That left them with 24 minutes to get to 53, but they needed possession and territory to do so. That was something Argentina smartly denied them.

The rain then came down in the second half, complicating South Africa’s already difficult, but not impossible task.

The mission becomes desperate, then impossible

Eben Etzebeth was then yellow-carded for an infringement on the hour mark and that was followed up by Faf de Klerk’s sin-binning five minutes later.

That left the Boks with 13 men to get to the half-century and it was at this point where a sense of gloom and despondency settled on the crowd.

With Argentina’s backs being far more inventive, it came as no surprise that the Pumas capitalized on their two-man advantage.

They scored through outside centre Matias Moroni in the 67th minute and Boffelli’s third successful conversion pushed SA’s target to 60.

The Boks didn’t have enough possession, territory, or the creative drive to keep the Pumas guessing and running in the last 10 minutes.

The crowd screamed ‘Bokke! Bokke!’ till they were hoarse and blue in the face. The hosts responded with another maul that led to a penalty try in the 71st minute.

They needed to score 29 points in the last eight minutes to keep the dream alive. They didn’t get them, but Kurt-Lee Arendse’s 80th-minute try gave the crowd something to shout about.

However, the disappointment could be felt as a golden opportunity was missed.


South Africa: (17) 38

Tries: Jasper Wiese, Siya Kolisi, Penalty Try (2), Kurt-Lee Arendse

Conversions: Frans Steyn (3)

Penalty: Steyn

Argentina: (14) 21

South Africa

Tries: Gonzalo Bertranou, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Matias Moroni

Conversions: Emiliano Boffelli (3)

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