Mendoza – The Springboks will be the first to admit they were far from a team who consider themselves Rugby Championship title contenders in their narrow escape against Argentina in Mendoza on Saturday.
It was a far cry from the 73-13 trouncing they’d handed the very same Pumas side a week prior in Johannesburg. And instead of doing what they had said they would do in the week leading up to Saturday’s game, the Springboks walked into an ambush that almost saw them suffer their first loss yet to the South Americans.
While coach Heyneke Meyer and his team offered no excuses for their lacklustre 22-17 win at the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, they admitted to not having performed to expectations but added that a valuable lesson had been learnt.
Meyer remained upbeat: “It is Test match rugby and it shows that sometimes you get quick ball and you score tries and sometimes you have to grind out the win. The great thing was that after some harsh words at half-time they (the Pumas) didn’t get any points in the second-half and we started to play some good rugby and go forward.
“We should have played like that in the first-half and so we will have to go back to the drawing board. There was nothing that we didn’t know beforehand so we will have to improve on that. We will learn from this. Three tight away games is really tough, a lot of travel but there is no purpose in making excuses. We need to fix what went wrong and win against Australia and New Zealand,” said Meyer.
Strangely, Saturday’s win still sees the Springboks top of the standings in the Rugby Championship and even though they are on the same number of points as New Zealand, it is their superior points’ difference that has kept them ahead.
But the Boks will have to perform near miracles when they take on Australia and New Zealand in the next two weeks.
While the Springboks might have scrummed well, they were found wanting on defence, in the collisions and particularly at the breakdowns.
Whether the Pumas were committing more men to the rucks or were more aggressive of the two teams, it worked and kept them in the game until the last 10 minutes.
There were players in the Springbok team who had games they would rather forget.
Scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar was a shadow of his normal self and will only open the door wider for Fourie du Preez to come back. Meyer also sits with a dilemma of whether to persist with Willie le Roux, who struggled under the high balls, or to find another option at fullback.
Eben Etzebeth’s low tolerance levels will have to be addressed sooner rather than later after hereacted angrily to an alleged biting incident.
Pumas loose forward Leonardo Senatore has been cited for alleged foul play and is alleged to have contravened Law 10.4 (m) with “acts contrary to good sportsmanship” when he allegedly bit Etzebeth.
The incident occurred in the 61st minute. Upon review of the match footage the citing commissioner deemed the incident to have met the red card threshold for foul play. The citing is to be considered in the first instance by Sanzar duty judicial officer (DJO) Adam Casselden at a hearing to provide the option of expediting the judicial process.
“For the matter to be dispensed with at this hearing, the person appearing must plead guilty and accept the penalty offered by the DJO,” said a Sanzar release yesterday.
While the backline was conspicuously muted with the little possession they had, much of what went wrong on Saturday must surely lie at the door of the forwards who should have taken charge upfront and subdued the overly zealous Argentine counterparts.
Meyer cannot have been happy with certain individual performances, but in an environment where most of the team performed way below their best, it is highly unlikely that there will be any form of retribution or changes to the team to travel to Australasia next weekend.
Instead, Meyer seems relieved that his team’s lacklustre performance happened against Argentina in Mendoza as a similar showing against the Wallabies or the All Blacks would be disasterous.
“We will take it on the chin and we will just have to work harder,” Meyer said.