Like a Bok caught in headlights

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Boks_Mendoza1 AP Argentina's Martin Rodriguez is tackled by South Africa's Francois Hougaard with captain Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana looking on.

Springboks 16 (3)

Tries: Steyn; Conversions: Steyn; Penalties: Steyn (3)

Argentina 16 (13)

Tries: Fernandez; Conversions: Rodriguez; Penalties: Rodriguez (3)

A considerable dose of good fortune allowed the Springboks to salvage a disappointing draw against Argentina on Saturday night after producing one of their most shoddy first-half performances in recent memory.

Trailing 16-9 with less than 15 minutes to play, a Francois Steyn try that came directly from a charged down kick, enabled the Boks to take a share of the spoils that they didn’t deserve.

Mendoza is known as the wine “capital” of Argentina, and the Springboks seemed almost punch drunk as they stumbled through the opening half of the Rugby Championship Test in Mendoza.

The penalties flowed thick and fast in an ill-disciplined, error-ridden and badly tempered start to the Test that saw a number of early off-the-ball incidents, with the Pumas clearly looking to disrupt the Boks.

Referee Steve Walsh found himself in danger of losing control at the breakdown early on, where it degenerated into an ugly scrap. Ironically, last weekend the Boks didn’t concede a single penalty at the breakdown, but were put under pressure in this area by the fast-arriving and physical Pumas.

Resembling a metaphorical deer (or should that be Springbok) caught in the headlights, the Boks simply couldn’t get their game going, and it was hardly a surprise when they were caught napping by Pumas centre Santagio Fernandez, who snuck through for the first try just before the quarter hour mark.

With passes going astray, Morné Steyn attempted to restore some sanity to Springbok proceedings when he slotted a 32nd minute three-pointer, but this was quickly cancelled out when the Boks conceded an umpteenth penalty five minutes from half-time.

Trailing by 10 points at half-time, it was hard to fathom the Boks’ failure to front up, and there is no doubt there would have been some choice words at half-time.

A couple of penalties to Steyn after half-time to one from Rodriguez reduced the deficit to seven points heading into the final quarter as Heyneke Meyer rang the changes. Flip van der Merwe replaced Andries Bekker, while Ruan Pienaar came into the No9 position, with Francois Hougaard moving to wing and Bryan Habana leaving the field.

Then came the moment of pure good fortune in the 66th minute, drawing the scores level at 16-16, with Steyn then missing an opportunity to snatch victory for the Boks when a late angled penalty kick sailed wide.

Over 40 000 passionate supporters packed into the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, many of whom were equipped with an instrument known as a “trumpeta”, essentially the local equivalent of a vuvuzela and which added a similarly unique background sound to Sunday night’s encounter.

While the weather was rather chilly on an overcast day, it was dry and sans any breeze to speak of, lending itself to running rugby on what was a pristine playing surface, except that the Boks battled to string any meaningful phases of play together early on.

The ground itself is rather quaint, originally built for the 1978 Fifa World Cup, there is a moat that surrounds the field and separates the supporters from the action, but they generated plenty of noise from the low, wide stands that surround the majority of the stadium.

A marching band welcomed the players onto the field, and in fact delayed the kick-off as they slowly made their way off the field after the anthems, but it added to a vibrant atmosphere.

And as it turned out, the singing and dancing local fans were able to witness “los Pumas” mark their maiden home match with a hard-fought draw.. – Sunday Independent


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