Pretoria – Contrary to the expected dry conditions on the Highveld, the Springboks had to adapt to hail and torrential rain in their narrow 13-6 Rugby Championship opener against Argentina in Pretoria on Saturday.
“We really wanted to play exciting rugby. We picked an exciting backline as we thought we would have an open, running game on the Highveld,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said after the nail-biting match.
“I am very proud of the team. That game could have gone either way. A lot of the Argentineans play in Europe, where they are used to the conditions, and they forced us into a kicking battle.”
Shortly before the start of the Test, the gathering dark clouds burst open above Loftus Versfeld and made playing conditions extremely difficult.
The Boks scored the only try of the match shortly after the kickoff, courtesy of scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar, which gave them a crucial advantage.
It was, however, a brave defensive effort by South Africa which led to their victory over the spirited South Americans.
Meyer said that while the weather forecast showed an increased chance of showers ahead of the kickoff, it was extremely difficult to make alternative plans at the 11th hour.
“The great thing about this team is that they can adapt. Later in the day, there was a 40 percent chance of rain and we started talking about changing the game,” he said.
“It is very difficult to change the game plan 10 minutes before the start, because your whole mindset is attack.
“The team I picked was a ball-in-hand type of team and the mindset was to just go out and play and, when you play at home in a game like this, you are under more pressure.”
While the Springboks struggled to adapt to the adverse conditions, skipper Jean de Villiers said it was difficult to comprehend just how tough it was at the time.
“It was probably one of the worst conditions that I have played in Ä the fact that it was so wet and difficult to handle the ball,” De Villiers said.
“At one stage, when Nicolas Sanchez (Argentine flyhalf) was dropping the ball for the kickoff, it just fell ‘boof’, standing upright on the ground.
“It was just one of those days where the conditions did not allow you to play at all.”
Both captain and coach commended youngsters, flyhalf Handre Pollard and lock Lood de Jager, for the way they handled the pressure in key positions.
“I am very proud because we had a 20-year-old at flyhalf and a 21-year-old running the lineouts. It wasn’t easy for him (De Jager) with Willem Alberts being injured (before the match),” Meyer said.
“It was just one of those games where you showed character. There were two 5m lineouts (at the death) where they could have scored and we did fantastically defending that.
“It was probably not the prettiest game but it would have been that type of game from the start. I’m just happy we pulled it through.”
Argentina would count themselves unlucky for not at least securing a draw after they came close to scoring in the dying moments of the match.
The visitors had the Boks’ number in the scrums and were tactically astute with some good pressure kicks.
Springbok fullback Willie le Roux was one of the standout players in the match where he remained cool and calm under the high ball.
De Villiers said while he was not completely satisfied with his side’s display, it would, nevertheless, hold them in good stead when they faced similar conditions in future.
“Things do change due to the conditions and our execution was poor tonight, but it is a situation that we have to get used to because we will face it again in the future, and I thought we got through nicely,” he said.
“So that is a positive but it is like any other week for us. It is starting all over again on Monday and the goals will be different.”
The Springboks took an early lead in the Rugby Championship as they occupied top spot after Australia and New Zealand played to a 12-12 draw in Sydney earlier on Saturday. – Sapa