Stuttering Springboks hold on for one-point victory over Argentina

Stuttering Springboks hold on for one-point victory over Argentina

The Springboks made the most of their few opportunities to defeat Argentina 22-21 at Ellis Park on Saturday, although it's a victory that will leave them with more questions than answers.

The Boks scored most of their points during a fairly productive opening 40 minutes but spent virtually the entire second half on the back foot and pinned down inside their own territory, and were arguably lucky to come away with the victory in the end.

While there were some encouraging signs in the performance and they did score a couple of good tries, they also tended to lack shape and cohesion, as well as a clear plan and direction, resulting in several unforced mistakes and handling errors.

Too often it seemed like moments of individual brilliance coming to their rescue, rather than a team firing on all cylinders and performing as a unit.

Credit must go to Argentina, however, who refused to lie down and seemed to play themselves into the match through sheer force of will and by showing tremendous fight and grit.

The match couldn't have started in worse fashion for Grant Williams, making his first start in the green and gold, when his clearance from the kick-off was charged down by Juan Cruz Mallia, causing him to accidentally get knocked out in the process.

That brought Faf de Klerk onto the pitch within seconds of the opening whistle, as Williams' big day ended before it had begun.

A productive period of attack inside the Boks' 22 for Argentina led to several penalty advantages, with Santiago Carreras eventually opting for the easy shot at goal to put his side in front.

Moments later, Jesse Kriel came within centimetres of a charge-down try when his outstretched hands just failed to regather the ball over the Argentina line.

The visitors soon doubled their lead following a penalty at the breakdown, but the Boks hit back immediately with their first penalty of the evening after winning a turnover inside the opposition 22.

The Boks' first try came just before the midway point of the half, started by a line-out move between Eben Etzebeth and Malcolm Marx, with several other forwards getting involved before a long, flat pass from Willie le Roux to Etzebeth saw the big man go over in the corner.

Unforced errors continued to mar the Boks' play, however, with a knock-on from the kick-off followed by an overcooked kick into touch not long after, and only a superb steal from Marx prevented the Argentines from taking advantage.

A superb penalty kick from Manie Libbok then set up a great attacking position for the hosts, and with the backs also getting involved in the ensuing line-out drive, it was left to Damian de Allende to peel off the maul and score the Boks' second try.

Again, an unnecessary error followed the try as Le Roux knocked the ball on metres from the Boks' line, but just as Marx had come to the Boks' rescue a few minutes earlier, Steven Kitshoff pulled off a great steal of his own to get the Boks out of jail again.

Just before half-time, the Boks gave away a penalty for playing the ball on the floor, allowing Carreras to reduce the deficit to six points. Kurt-Lee Arendse very nearly went over in the final seconds of the half, but a foot into touch saved Argentina as it finished 15-9 to the Boks at the break.

The second half started with the Boks given an opportunity to kick for the corner, but there were cheers all around from Argentina when they won a turnover from the ensuing maul.

After a stop-start 10-minute period from both teams, some great interplay from Argentina's backs and forwards took them right to the Boks' line as a try looked all but certain - but again a heroic steal from Kitshoff got them out of danger.

Argentina were growing in confidence and starting to see more of the ball, showing greater continuity and cohesion than their opponents, but time and time again, the Boks' desperate defence came up trumps.

The penalties kept coming against the home side, however, with Pieter-Steph du Toit accounting for two in quick succession for infringing in the line-out, the second of which gave Carreras a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit from the kicking tee, though his effort was wide.

The Boks continued to find themselves pinned inside their own half, while a short foray outside of their own territory quickly fizzled out following another unforced error.

When Kwagga Smith gave away another penalty for not rolling away, the Boks were given an official warning from the referee, as Argentina opted to kick for the corner rather than take the points on offer.

But just when it seemed as if all the visitors' pressure was finally going to come to bear, a pass went astray, allowing Faf de Klerk to pick up the ball and offload to Libbok, whose rocket boots took him virtually the length of the field for a try very much against the run of play.

Argentina, to their credit, kept coming despite that hammer blow, and when De Allende stuck out a hand to try and intercept a pass, he got 10 minutes in the bin for his troubles.

That allowed the visitors to assault the Springbok line once more and finally they were able to find the space out wide, resulting in a well-deserved try for Matteo Carreras in the 75th minute. Crucially, Santiago Carreras' conversion kick from the corner did not find the target, however, leaving the Boks eight points clear with five minutes to play.

There was more drama to come when a kick from Argentina down the touchline led to a frantic chase for the ball from Cheslin Kolbe and several Argentina players. Kolbe won the race but had to carry the ball over the line and touch down, handing Argentina a five-metre scrum.

As the siren sounded, the Argentines went over but were held up over the line. Back it went to a penalty advantage for the visitors, who eventually found their way over for a second try via scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou after he wriggled his way through a tired defence - though it came just too late to change the outcome of the match.

While it was the Boks who held on for victory, it almost felt more like the result had gone the other way, and Argentina's hugely impressive second-half showing sets up what is sure to be an epic return fixture next week in Mendoza, a match in which the South Americans are now sure to fancy their chances.