Springbok captain Jean de Villiers praised the impact made by the South African replacements as they recorded a hard-fought 33-31 Castle Lager Rugby Championship victory over a gallant Argentina in Salta on Saturday afternoon.
With 20 minutes to go, the home team led by 28-16, but tries in the final quarter by right wing Cornal Hendricks and replacement flank Marcell Coetzee swung the tide in the Springboks’ favour. A late penalty goal by replacement flyhalf Morné Steyn was the difference in the end.
The Springboks went into the break 16-13 in the lead, mainly thanks to a try by Bryan Habana and some pin-point goal-kicking by Handré Pollard, but Argentina scored two tries in quick succession early in the second half to take a 12-point cushion into the final 20 minutes.
However, that was when the Springboks got momentum after they struggled to get good possession in the first hour of the match. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers praised the home team for their performance after the match.
“I’ve said it before, but I really think Argentina is a much better team than what their world-ranking shows, and they showed it again today,” said De Villiers after the match.
“We’re happy that we could pull it through, but it could’ve gone either way.”
De Villiers said the energy brought by the Springbok replacements was probably where his team won the match.
“That is not saying that the players who started did badly, but our bench, whom we see as impact players rather than replacements, certainly made an impact today and that is probably where the difference was.”
Meyer said his team had shown great character to pull this one through.
“All credit to Argentina though – they’ve been together for a month and you could see that today as they played some great rugby,” said Meyer.
“We don’t want to say every week that we’ve shown great character, but we’ve now won nine out of our last 10 away games and I think the guys have shown that they know how to win.
“At one stage, we were down and out and the team came back. We know there are a lot of areas we have to work on, but we’re still in this competition.”
The Springboks will return to South Africa on Monday before regrouping on Thursday to start preparations for the Australasian leg of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship, against Australia in Perth (6 September) and New Zealand in Wellington (13 September).
The only major injury concern at this stage is Frans Malherbe, who sustained a serious injury to his right ankle and was forced the leave the field late in the match. He will not be available for the rest of the competition.
Malherbe will consult with a specialist in Cape Town upon his return to South Africa, when a call on further treatment and his replacement will be make.