Pumas hold bumbling Boks

RYAN VREDE reports on a 16-16 draw in which Argentina soared while the Springboks stunk.

The Springboks’ journey under Heyneke Meyer will be marked by many transformative lessons. However long that journey is, they should never forget the one dealt out to them this evening in Mendoza. It was primarily a lesson in pressure application and negotiation. Never before has this group been tested in the manner they were this evening – and they failed dismally on both counts.

Their response under this stern examination was worrying. Their lifeline was gained through a charged down try. There was absolutely nothing inspiring about them. Certainly they are still seeking synergy, but, on the evidence of this performance, that process is happening much slower than expected.

The result also reinforces the threat the Pumas pose at home. They’ve claimed big scalps on Argentinian soil in the past and for some time it appeared that the Springboks would become the biggest of their appreciable collection. Their showing reinforces their value to the competition. The Springboks were the unappreciative recipients of their punishing hospitality tonight, but they may benefit from when New Zealand and Australia have to make the long-haul trip to Argentina then back home to face Meyer’s men a week later.

The Pumas can boast that their game was characterised by the key elements the Springboks would want to pride themselves in – brutal and accurate impact in the collisions on attack and defence, efficient set phase work, accurate tactical kicking, slick ball-in-hand attack and composure under pressure. The outstanding feature of their play was, however, a rabid breakdown contest (facilitated by a belligerent effort in the tackle). The Springboks were seldom allowed to get any momentum in their game and were made to look like rank amateurs at times. They never adapted and paid the price.

The Pumas stunned the Springboks in the first quarter – opening up a 10-point lead through a converted Santiago Fernández try and Martín Rodríguez penalty. But where their effort dropped off after 20 minutes at Newlands, the Pumas, fuelled by the support of their passionate fans, sustained their effort throughout.

Morne Steyn managed a penalty, but Martín Rodríguez kicked his third three pointer to give his side a 13-3 half-time lead. The Springboks attempted to vary their play, spinning the ball wide more often than they have to under Meyer. But they lacked precision and imagination and were routinely isolated in the wide channels. Furthermore, their tactical kicking game was poor, compounding their attacking struggles.

There was a observable shift to a tighter game after the break, but their strike runners were met with defiance at the gainline and they had to rely on Morne Steyn’s contributions with the boot to stay alive.

Then Frans Steyn gave them hope of what would have been an undeserved victory, charging down an attempted clearance and collecting to score. Morne Steyn added the extras. The flyhalf had a chance to take the lead with seven minutes to play, but he hooked his attempt. There was a laboured effort to steal victory in the dying stages but the Springboks never looked capable of unhinging the Pumas.

This was a defeat for the Springboks in every way but in the scoreline. How they address their catalogue of problems in the coming fortnight prior to the Perth Test against Australia will be decisive to their campaign.

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