Pretoria - The Springboks would have walked away from Saturday’s rain-drenched Test against Argentina cursing at the rain and rugby gods for denying them the opportunity to get a firm grip of the Rugby Championship.
After Australia and New Zealand played to a 12-12 draw, also in a dampened affair due to persistent rain in Sydney, the Springboks would have fancied their chances of walking away with maximum points against the Pumas at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
But an unexpected torrential downpour, including hail, pelted Loftus and took away the spectacle of a running game and with it any chance of a four-try bonus point.
The rain may have only abated at the end of the game, but the Boks had done enough to emerge 13-6 victors over Argentina and as was the case last year, find themselves perched at the summit of the Rugby Championship table.
Coach Heyneke Meyer has poured cold water on any suggestions that his team are in the pound seats because they lead the standings and instead insisted that there is still pressure on them to win their remaining five matches if they are to win the competition.
“I don’t think you must read too much into that. There are so many positives and negatives and you need to work around that,” Meyer said about the draw in Sydney, which ended the All Blacks’ 17-match winning streak.
“We must focus on what we need to do and it is only at the end that we will know. The great thing for us now is that we are running our own race and we would have been under huge pressure if we drew as well.
“At least we won our first game and there are five games remaining. We have to run our own race and we don’t have to look at other teams. I’ve said to the team we have won seven in a row now and we are probably ahead of the rest in the world, so we need to keep on building.”
The Springboks will certainly need to keep on building, judging by the manner in which they struggled to adapt speedily to the wet and slippery conditions on Saturday, while Argentina seemed to cope better with conditions that suited their team, which is laden with European-based players.
Meyer conceded that the conditions played into the Argentinians’ hands as the visitors looked to dominate the scrums and lineouts earlier in the game, but he lauded his troops for eventually containing the threat and showing the character to rise above the uneven hand of nature.
“I’m very proud of the team. To be honest, that game could have gone either way. A lot of credit to them because a lot of their players play in Europe and are used to the conditions and they forced us into a kicking battle,” he said.
“I’m proud because we had a 20-year-old at flyhalf and a 21-year-old running the lineouts. This was one of those games where you just show character. Great captaincy and one of those games that was not the prettiest, and we will need to refocus because there is another tough game coming,” said Meyer.
While the Springboks may have passed the character test, the coach doesn’t seem bothered with how his team were not able to get a clear dominance in the scrums, but said that they would need to improve drastically this week.
“No, I’m not worried. It was very wet and tough out there. I was really surprised there weren’t more reset scrums, I thought both teams were really positive. I expected a more scrappy game and more restart scrums, and I thought we improved a lot there. We must look at the positives and we are the only team that scored a try, so we can build from that,” Meyer added.
The rain perhaps may have somewhat levelled the playing field, but it would not have been fair to judge the individual Springbok players’ performances. It is highly unlikely that Meyer will make any major changes with his starting line-up ahead of their game in Salta, but he admitted that he will be toying with the idea of giving Juan Smith a run or Lions captain and No 8 Warren Whiteley, who has replaced the injured Willem Alberts in the travelling party.
The withdrawal of Alberts because of a hamstring injury will force Meyer to look for a hard-running ball-carrier who can also be an option at the back of the lineout, and between Smith and Whiteley, the Bok coach feels he has worthy replacements for Alberts.
“I will be tempted to bring him in, but we only have two training sessions and it depends how Juan Smith goes,” he said. “With Willem injured, we need a big-type ball-carrier and Juan Smith fulfils that role, but he has also been injured. The reason why we went for Warren is that he has impressed me and has played some great rugby.
“He is a guy who wasn’t in the camps, but I have kept contact with him and I was also impressed with what he did with the Sevens team at the Commonwealth Games. It’s great to have him involved, and I think he is going to push hard to make the team.”