Mendoza, Argentina – South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer admitted Sunday he has serious back row problems to solve before a Rugby Championship third-round clash in Australia next month.
His first away game since replacing out-of-contract Peter de Villiers last January did not go according to plan this weekend as they snatched an undeserved 16-16 draw with fired-up newcomers Argentina.
Los Pumas held a 10-point lead three times at Estadio Mundialista Malvinas Argentinas and it took a Francois Steyn try off a charge down to salvage some pride for the often outplayed Springboks.
Next up for the two-time world champions is a September 8 showdown with bogey team Australia in Perth, followed a week later by an even more daunting assignment against World Cup holders New Zealand in Dunedin.
Former Super Rugby title-winning coach Meyer gambled on a new loose trio combination of flanks Marcell Coetzee and Jacques Potgieter and No 8 Willem Alberts in this western city at the foothills of the Andes mountain range.
But the anticipated physicality from the green and gold back row never materialised as they repeatedly came off second best at the breakdowns while a near-capacity 40,000 crowd roared on the home team.
“We battled at the breakdown, we got little quick ball and, when we did, we should have used it better,” Meyer admitted before the long flight back to Johannesburg.
“Argentina came hard at us as expected – creating many difficult situations for our inexperienced team – and we were found wanting at times when it came to mental toughness.
“I am sorry the way we played did not honour the great welcome we had in Mendoza. The people can be proud of their team,” said Meyer of a national team avoiding defeat for the first time in 15 Tests against the Springboks.
Meyer opted for ball-carrying loose forwards when he took over and discarded Heinrich Brussow, ranked among the best “scavengers” in world rubgy for his ability to win possession at rucks and mauls.
Potgieter was a particular disappointment in Mendoza, never stamping his authority on the game like he did for Northern Bulls in his maiden Super 15 season.
Argentina proved quick learners as they shrugged off a 27-6 loss in Cape Town last weekend to dominate much of the game through a fiery pack and fearsome tackling with veteran loosehead prop Rodrigo Roncero prominent.
“We had hoped for another result – a win – but we are still very satisfied. The team did a lot of good work at the breakdown, displaying a strength of Argentine rugby,” said coach Santiago Phelan.
But the 38-year-old former Pumas flank could not hide disappointment at letting victory slip from their grasp, nor could inspirational captain and No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.
“We made progress from last week in Cape Town and now we must prepare for the biggest challenges we will face as players,” he said ahead of September fixtures in New Zealand and Australia on consecutive weekends.
“There was much talk this week about improving how we got out of our own half and for a big part of the match we did that well. The key factors were attitude, commitment and confidence.”
New Zealand completed a “double” over Australia by winning 22-0 in Auckland and lead the Championship table with eight points after two rounds, followed by South Africa with six, Argentina with two and Australia are pointless. – Sapa-AFP