Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza - It was from deep within the bowels of the Estadio Malvinas Argentinas last year that Springbok wing Bryan Habana spoke about his teammates taking at a hard look at themselves in the mirror after their 16-16 draw against Argentina.
Almost a year to the day of that ugly but fortunate draw, the demons came back to haunt the Boks as they struggled to adapt to a much improved and spirited Argentina side.
It was almost as if the Springboks had taken a giant step backwards after making monumental strides just a week ago when they humiliated the Pumas 73-13.
If they were fortunate last year then this was the great escape as the Springboks were undeserved 22-17 winners of a game that should have gone the way of the Pumas – the Springboks found themselves on the receiving end, first to the hard running and rucking of the Pumas and secondly to the resolute and clearly emotionally-charged defence of the hosts.
The Pumas used the same ambush tactics of last year and were spurred on by their boisterous and intimidating crowd.
Over and above succumbing to the noisy jeers of the crowd, the Springboks seemingly wilted at the endless waves of attack by the Pumas with Juan Manuel Leguizamón and wing Gonzalo Camacho leading the charge from the front.
It was Leguizamón’s clever dart down the blindside from a lineout five metres out that saw the hefty flanker crash over the line with two would-be defenders slipping off with relative ease in the second minute of the game.
The Pumas never let off their advances deep into Springbok territory and on another of their many attacks Camacho sliced through the lacklustre defence to set up a handful of phases that eventually saw centre Marcelo Bosch dive over.
The Boks were in trouble as they were lagging behind 17-10 moments before the half-time interval but this had unfortunately been the sad tale of their time on the field.
Missing from the artillery was their offensive defence which had yielded plenty of turnovers and a platform to counter attack last week.
Coupled with that was the Springboks inability to deal with the aggression and numbers the Pumas were committing to the rucks and with that disappeared the little chances they had on attack.
While Morne Steyn kept the visitors within touching distance on the scoreboard with two penalties and conversion of Bjorn Basson’s try in the first half, in the second half the Springboks again struggled to deal with the brilliance of the Pumas pack.
The Pumas were hitting the Boks where it hurts the most by winning the collision and in almost a replica of South Africa’s play last week, the Pumas even dared to use the driving maul against a team who have been world leaders in this facet of the game.
And the frustration told for the Boks as scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar uncharacteristically continued to dish out a slow and poor service to his backs, Willie le Roux failed to gather many of the up-and-unders the Pumas peppered him with. Lock Eben Etzebeth also lashed out with two open-handed blows at eighthman Leonardo Senatore and was lucky to escape with a warning from referee Steve Walsh.
The inept performance by most of the starting Boks left coach Heyneke Meyer with little choice but to haul his entire bench onto the field and while the fresh legs of Bismarck du Plessis, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe and Siya Kolisi managed to slow down the Pumas up front, it did little to energise a team that was already in disarray.
This was evident in the dying minutes when the Springboks were presented with a penalty and instead of going for posts they opted for the lineout – but failed to gain any meaningful ground from their rolling maul.
The Springboks will need more than just a look at themselves in the mirror to find solutions to this diabolical performance and even though it was their first away win in four years in the southern hemisphere competition, it will do little to rattle All Blacks or Wallabies, who the Springboks face next in the competition.
For Meyer, the time might have come to make hard decisions on which players he will continue with going forward if the Springboks are to indeed win the Rugby Championship and ultimately the Rugby World Cup in two years’ time.
Argentina – Tries: Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Marcelo Bosch. Conversions: Felipe Contepomi (2). Penalty: Contepomi
South Africa – Try: Bjorn Basson. Conversion: Morne Steyn. Penalties: Steyn (4)