Cries of sheer relief and jubilation could figuratively be heard all the way from Salta where the Springboks beat Argentina 46-13 on Saturday to clinch their first Rugby Championship title since 2009 in emphatic style.
A five tries-to-one drubbing perfectly exemplified the dominance of Rassie Erasmus’ troops as they beat the Pumas at their own game and earned the bonus point that ensured they end on 12 points in the final standings, comfortably ahead of Australia, who surprisingly beat the All Blacks earlier in the day in Perth.
The Boks, who lead 24-13 at the break, initially had to dig deep in the second half after scrumhalf Faf de Klerk was yellow-carded in the 46th minute for a professional foul, but their relentless defensive play caged the hosts and eventually frustrated them into to totally surrendering.
Erasmus will be first to say this triumph doesn’t guarantee World Cup success, but it sure provides great momentum.
Who was the star in this match?
While tighthead Trevor Nyakane deserved high praise for his powerful scrum performance and an outstanding work rate on defence, flyhalf Handre Pollard – who contributed a record 31 points for an away Test – showed why he is rated as the best flyhalf in SA by some distance. He read play well and he kicked superbly off the tee. His dominance when attacking the gainline also saw him score two tries.
Key moments and themes
- The Boks were guilty of getting out of the blocks a bit slowly after the hosts went into a 7-0 lead after just two minutes. Pivot Nicolas Sanchez ghosted through the defensive line and then followed it up with a superb cross kick for wing Santiago Cordero. It was nervy stuff from the South Africans, but redemption was swiftly around the coner.
- Instead of rushing things to regain the initiative, the Boks were prepared to put their collective head down and grind for every inch. They scored a great rolling maul try by hooker Bongi Mbonambi in the 13th minute to establish their dominance upfront and commenced their hammering of the Pumas’ scrum.
- Yet South Africa’s greatest strength in this game was how they managed to flood the breakdowns, force scrum infringements and tackle the Argentinians backwards, essentially beating their opponents at their own game. Pleasingly, they also managed to convert that pressure into points, initially letting Pollard’s boot do the talking and gradually being more adventurous on the counter.
- As much as the Boks deserved all the plaudits for this win, it must be pointed out that the Pumas were strangely listless. They had a few bright sparks on attack, but in general lacked the will to physically try and topple the visitors. In all honesty, it felt as if they surrendered quite early.
Argentina – Try: Santiago Cordero. Conversion: Nicolas Sanchez. Penalties: Sanchez (2).
Springboks – Tries: Handre Pollard (2), Bongi Mbonambi, Makazole Mapimpi, Cheslin Kolbe. Conversions: Pollard (3). Penalties: Pollard (5).