Johannesburg – Since last year’s trip to Europe, the Springboks’ score sheet reads seven out of seven, with Saturday night’s demolition of Argentina by far the most emphatic performance by the Boks since Heyneke Meyer took charge.
By scoring nine tries in their Rugby Championship opener, they sent out a clear warning to New Zealand and Australia that they mean business this year.
Earlier in the day the All Backs picked up five points against the Wallabies and the Boks would have finished their match on Saturday thinking, “whatever the All Blacks can do, the Boks can do better”.
It was a master-class by Meyer’s men and they leave for Argentina on Sunday for the return match in the competition, confident of righting the wrongs of last year when they only managed a 16-16 draw in Mendoza.
In fact, after Saturday’s performance, which saw veteran scrum-half Fourie du Preez return to the Bok side after an absence of two years and produce a stunning show at No 9, the Springboks will believe they have a real shot at winning the title this year.
There were heroes – and highlights – aplenty in the Bok performance, with most departments completely dominated by the hosts.
The new scrum engagement law went well for the Boks and they actually had the upper hand in the scrums, Juandre Kruger and Eben Etzebeth were massive in the line-outs and Duane Vermeulen’s return to the side after injury showed that he is the best No 8 in the country.
He combined brilliantly with Francois Louw and Willem Alberts, just as they’d done in Europe at the end of last year. Adriaan Strauss, at hooker, was also outstanding in giving the Boks go-forward ball.
The Boks won several turn-overs and supplied Ruan Pienaar, and later on Du Preez, with quick, front-foot ball, while the backs had a field day, particularly in the second half when taking full advantage of a completely outgunned Argentina.
Some outstanding tries were scored by the outside men, but the forwards also got their names on the try-scorers’ sheet, with three five-pointers coming via the line-out drive.
Meyer spoke in the days leading up to match of how apprehensive he was about the South Americans, that they’d been in camp for almost a month and would be much-improved from last year – but he needn’t have worried.
The majority of the Argentinians might play in the best leagues in Europe and this might be their second year in the Rugby Championship, but on last night’s performance, they still have a long way to go before they’re going to seriously challenge the Boks, the Aussies and Kiwis.
While the hosts ran away with the game in the end, it was far from a convincing start.
The Boks kept the game tight and the ball among the forwards, with Morne Steyn probing for territory, and it was somewhat surprising that their first try came on the half hour mark – and it was a penalty try.
But once they’d settled and JJ Engelbrecht scored a second after collecting a chip kick into space by Willie le Roux, one sensed that the floodgates would open.
In the second half Meyer’s men really turned on the style. They played with freedom and flair, backed themselves and they flourished. The Boks did exactly what Meyer wanted from them: to finish off the chances they created.
The interplay, pace and skill displayed in the second spell was at times breath-taking and the Boks will move on believing tthat hey can match the All Blacks this year.
Springboks: Tries: Penalty try, Engelbrecht, Strauss, Alberts, De Villiers, Du Preez, Habana, Vermeulen, Du Plessis; Conversions: Steyn (8); Penalties: Steyn (4).
Argentina: Try: Contepomi Conversion: Contepomi; Penalties: Contepomi (2).