PORT ELIZABETH – If there was one thing clearer than the fans’ passion at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium (crowd 42 513) on Saturday, it was that the Springboks have certainly taken a few steps in the right direction in terms of their attack.
The rugby community here in Port Elizabeth have been starved of Test rugby, but their wave after wave of support must have inspired the Boks, because they responded with intensity and commitment on the field in a 37-15 Rugby Championship victory.
It wasn’t an easy night during the first half for the Boks in a cold and windy Port Elizabeth during their first Rugby Championship match of the 2017 season.
But is it ever easy against Los Pumas?
In the first few minutes, the Springboks did most of the attacking, but they just couldn’t get past the Argentinians’ defence and deeper into their red zone.
The Boks got the first points on the board in the 10th minute when flyhalf Elton Jantjies nailed a penalty kick after a ruck infringement by the Pumas.
And in the 20th, he struck it over the black dot perfectly yet again to stretch their lead to 6-0.
But at the 30-minute mark, the Pumas showed their potency in broken play when they capitalised on poor decision-making (or rather unused chances) by the Boks to score the opening try.
In the seconds leading up to that, there was a lot of space behind the Pumas’ defensive line, and perhaps a decent option would have been for Jantjies, or anyone else, to kick in behind them.
But they didn’t, and when the spaced closed up while the Boks were still trying to penetrate Argentina’s 22, inside centre Jan Serfontein put in a grubber that was snatched up by the Pumas and carried all the way into the Springboks in-goal area.
They also, as expected, flooded the breakdowns, and at times the Boks should have reacted quicker when it came to cleaning and just general alertness around the fringes.
And maybe there were a few other examples in that first 40, but the good far outweighed the little bad.
The Boks showed sharpness on attack, especially in the second half. There were nice, flowing moves from the set-pieces which led to five-pointers, and their tactical display was great.
Another big match-up in the build-up to Saturday’s fixture was the scrums and lineouts.
The Boks can be pleased with how their pack went against a team that are as known for their attacking innovation as they are for their scrummaging prowess.
Tighthead prop Coenie Oosthuizen, in particular, deserves a tap on the shoulders for how he showed off in the scrums – but it wasn’t just at the set-piece that he was good as he made a few big marks in open play as well.
His Man of the Match award was definitely thoroughly deserved.
Not much could be faulted when it came to the Bok lineout either, other than the shaky performance during the first lineout in the game.
And it’s safe to say that is not how No 8 Uzair Cassiem would have wanted to start his night, especially since he received heaps of lineout praise for his detail at the set-piece during their Test-week preparations.
It was also great to see the involvement of their men on either side of the touchline. The Bok wings featured way more in this game than they did during the Incoming series in June.
And they weren’t just involved, they made that involvement count – properly.
Both Courtnall Skosan and Raymond Rhule added a few great touches, but it was Skosan’s stunning running angle before scoring the Boks’ first try that was the highlight of his outing.
And the same can be said about Rhule’s try that made the Boks’ lead a commanding one.
And can we just get to Elton Jantjies for a second?
The pivot was instrumental in a number of those attacking patterns of the Boks, and he showed a brilliant display of hands leading up to Skosan’s try.
His decision-making was fine, his tactical effort was decent, and he had a flawless night with the tee as he kicked seven out of seven.
So, again, the start of the Boks’ first Championship Test wasn’t easy, but it’s the way you finish that counts.
Hopefully they can take that finish and build on it.
South Africa 37 – Tries: Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule, Siya Kolisi, Pieter-Steph du Toit. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (4). Penalties: Jantjies (3).
Argentina 15 – Tries: Martin Landajo, Emiliano Boffelli. Conversion: Nicolas Sanchez (1). Penalty: Sanchez (1).