BUENOS AIRES – A cool finish by right wing Wandile Mjekevu secured a welcome 31-30 Super Rugby victory for the Southern Kings over the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Friday night.
It was sweet revenge for the men from Port Elizabeth, who had lost their first-round match to the South Americans at home by 39-26 in February.
The triumph is also the first by Deon Davids’ team in Argentina in their second attempt, having been smashed 73-27 in the corresponding fixture last year April.
The Kings were trailing 25-24 with 10 minutes to go, but replacement scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer engaged the Jaguares defence near the 22 and delayed his pass to perfection for Mjekevu, who wrong-footed the final defender with a wonderful piece of balanced running to score under the posts.
Captain Lionel Cronjé booted over the conversion for a 31-25 lead, and despite a second try to Joachin Tuculet with about five minutes to go, the conversion was missed and the Kings held on for their fifth win of the season in 13 matches.
But the bald-headed Davids would’ve pulled his hair out if he had any due to the high number of handling errors committed by the Kings, which nearly cost them the game.
Time and again the Eastern Cape outfit would breach the advantage line and get in behind the Jaguares defence, only to force a loose offload in the tackle that would invariably not go to hand.
The lack of rhythm on attack was probably due to the fact that it was their first game after the June Test window, but it was still unacceptably poor from a Super Rugby side.
Both teams had opportunities to put points on the board in the opening 15 minutes, but a combination of questionable decision-making by the Jaguares and scrambling defence by the visitors – with openside flank Chris Cloete making a number of turnovers at the breakdowns – kept the game scoreless.
But Jaguares flank Juan Manuel Leguizamon broke the deadlock in the 16th minute when a relentless passage of attacking play saw Tuculet deliver a fine cut-out pass for his Argentina Test teammate to burst over the line.
It didn’t take long for the Kings to hit back, though. A rolling maul from a five-metre lineout was stopped, but scrumhalf Louis Schreuder found centre Luzuko Vulindlu, who bumped off the first tackler to dot down.
Jaguares flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez kept his team in touch with a penalty, but the Kings continued to find space out wide, and it eventually paid dividends.
The Kings pack – who provided a solid platform at scrum-time throughout – held steady to give their backs front-foot ball, with fullback Malcolm Jaer making a timely pass to put speedy left wing Makazole Mapimpi over for his eighth try of the season in the 28th minute.
It looked like the visitors were getting the better of the Jaguares with a 14-8 lead, but captain Leonardo Senatore’s team fought their way back into the game with a two-try blitz before halftime via left wing Emiliano Boffelli and then Sanchez, with the Kings’ flimsy defence found wanting to hand the hosts a 20-14 advantage.
A perfect grubber by Sanchez after the break put Tuculet over for his first five-pointer of the night, and at 25-14, it was a long road back for the Kings.
But the never-say-die attitude of Cronjé and his team shone through as the skipper slotted a penalty, and Mapimpi got his second try on the hour mark after good hands from centre Berton Klaasen.
Cronjé banged over the conversion, and it was anybody’s game at 25-24 to the Jaguares.
About 10 minutes later, though, it was Mjekevu who made the decisive play with his smart footwork, and the Kings held on for victory as the Jaguares’ replacement flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla missed the touch-line conversion of Tuculet’s second try and a penalty in the 63rd minute.
Jaguares 30 – Tries: Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Emiliano Boffelli, Nicolas Sanchez, Joaquin Tuculet (2). Conversion: Sanchez (1). Penalty: Sanchez (1).
Southern Kings 31 – Tries: Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi (2), Wandile Mjekevu. Conversions: Lionel Cronjé (4). Penalty: Cronjé (1).
African News Agency (ANA)