Johannesburg – How many times have we seen the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal go to little second and third tier grounds in the FA Cup and struggle? Sometimes the big guns lose against the minnows, and there’s really no explanation for it.
Now, I’m not saying Argentina are minnows in the mould of some of the non-league sides who feature in the FA Cup in English football, but they are, in rugby terms, not nearly at the same level as South Africa. The Boks are second in the world rankings; Los Pumas are 10th, so there’s a big difference.
In football, when the little clubs go to the big grounds they generally get hammered, but on home soil, the players turn into men possessed. And, as was the case in Mendoza, the football grounds at the little clubs are small and tight and the crowd is massively intimidating. The home players get pumped up and often get some of the 50/50 calls going their way.
It was the same for the Boks last Saturday ... but I’m not making any excuses for the disappointing performance. The Boks were hammered at the breakdowns, forced passes that weren’t on and had no rhythm to their game. They were a far cry from the side that looked invincible a week earlier on home soil at the FNB Stadium.
And while Steve Walsh didn’t have a howler of a game – as he sometimes does – he let a lot of things go. The Argentines were often offside at the rucks, they regularly went off their feet and the backs were on more than one occasion in front of the kicker. They got away with it, but hats off to them for playing to the whistle.
The Boks were poor and they’ve admitted as much. They will also learn a lot more from the performance than they did in the 60-plus point thrashing they inflicted on Argentina at FNB. The crucial thing is they got up to win the game, as any good side should do. If there was ever panic in the ranks, it never showed. They appeared calm and played it correctly in the dying minutes to force Argentina into making errors and they kicked the penalties that mattered.
Playing a team like Argentina, at home, with their backs-to-the-wall, will never be easy; just as it’ll never be easy for Manchester United to go to Swindon for an FA Cup game.
Saturday’s game is exactly what the Boks needed. It will have put various matters into perspective and will force the players to work harder in future. It will also pull the side closer together and I suspect they’ll be a much-improved side when they go Australasia. And call me mad if you want, but I think the Boks have a better chance of knocking over Australia and New Zealand away from home than they would do Argentina.