The Springboks held their nerve to keep their 2019 unbeaten season alive with a hard-fought 24-8 victory over Argentina in a Castle Lager Incoming Series match at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Rassie Erasmus said afterwards that it’s nice to learn when you’re winning ugly.
Two tries by powerful wing Sbu Nkosi – the second of them a masterpiece of solo finishing – and a five-from-six kicking display by Elton Jantjies was just enough to see off the challenge of a fired-up and remorseless Argentinian team whose scrum in particular was unrecognizable from a week ago.
The win means the Boks leave for Japan at the end of month having lost only once in their last outings and having scored 13 tries to five in the season. The team’s trajectory continues to rise.
The Springboks pinned the Pumas in their own quarter – and most of it in their own 22 – for the opening nine minutes but could not convert the field position into points.
The visitors successfully fought off a couple of rolling mauls to eventually lift the siege and it was not until the 19th minute that the Springboks took the lead.
Cobus Reinach broke from the base of a scrum on halfway and when Lood de Jager’s powerful follow through was halted, the Pumas conceded a penalty for not rolling away and Elton Jantjies had a simple shot at goal from the 22 and straight in front.
That was cancelled out in the 27th minute when the Pumas’ increasing control of territory drew a penalty from replacement Kwagga Smith (who had come on while Marcell Coetzee underwent a Head Injury Assessment from which he did not return).
Smith was penalised for tackling the half back and flyhalf Joaquin Diaz Bonilla took the three from halfway out on the left.
Five minutes later the crowd were on their feet however as the Springboks scored the first try of the match. Sbu Nkosi powered through the last line of defence from five metres out after slick build-up play.
A lineout on the left created quick ball for the forwards to punch to the 22-metre line in centre field from where a cut-out pass by Jantjies put fullback Warwick Gelant into a hole for him to free Nkosi on an overlap.
Jantjies’ touchline conversion came back off the far upright but the Boks were in possession on the halftime siren and seemed to be heading into the break with a five point lead until disaster struck. Guido Petti inserted himself into the Bok backline and picked off Reinach’s pass on halfway.
The lock set off on a straight line to the posts and almost to his own surprise had enough of a lead to dive over untouched. Diaz Bonilla converted from in front.
Five minutes into the new half the Springboks almost compounded the error when Gelant was charged down by Marcos Kremer. He was able to regather five metres out and although Gelant recovered to tackle the lock, he flipped away a low pass which wing Sebastian Cancelliere knocked on to then ground the ball. It took a TMO call and slow motion replays to calm Springbok nerves however.
Heart rates went through the roof however three minutes later when an exceptional piece of finishing from Nkosi restored the Springbok lead. A long pass to the right from centre Jesse Kriel gave Nkosi some space but also a number of sky blue hooped jerseys sweeping across.
Nkosi bumped off the first, spun through the second and then flew into the in-goal area from the 22-metre line as the third came in to complete a spectacular score.
Jantjies converted from the touchline and added a penalty – sandwiching a penalty from replacement flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta, to give the Springboks a five-point lead (18-13) but with 15 minutes remaining the game was thrown back into the balance.
Flank Pablo Matera bulldozed through from a five-metre line out to level the scores but Urdapilleta’s conversion was wide to leave the scores tied at 18-18.
Jantjies kicked a third penalty with 12 minutes to go to regain the lead for South Africa but, with three minutes remaining, it looked like it had been overhauled.
Urdapilleta spun through a tackle and then ghosted outside one of his own players before a clever chip and regather sent him down the left hand touchline.
Although he was halted the ball was worked infield for centre Lucas Mensa to cut the line and score a fine try. However the score was ruled out after a number of replays for an obstruction on Vincent Koch from Urdapilleta’s initial break.
It was a tense moment and salt was rubbed in the Pumas’ wounds when Jantjies landed his fifth successful kick from the resulting penalty. More tense few minutes followed to the final hooter, but the Boks had done just enough.
South Africa – Tries: Sbu Nkosi (2); Conversion: Elton Jantjies; Penalty goals: Jantjies (4).
Argentina – Tries: Guido Petti, Pablo Matera; Conversion: Joaquin Diaz Bonilla; Penalty goals: Diaz Bonilla, Benjamín Urdapilleta.