Boks hold on at Loftus

2014-08-16 23:39

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“Damp squib” is too tame a term to describe a desultory performance by the Springboks as they struggled to down a determined Argentinian side in their opening Rugby Championship fixture tonight.

Heavy rain that began falling shortly before the start made the field slippery and the ball difficult to handle, but that was no excuse for a Bok side that lacked urgency.

They looked like a bedraggled outfit at the end of a long season rather than an energised team at the start of it.

The new buzzword in the Springbok camp is ‘execution’ but there was very little of it to be seen as Jean de Villiers’ men nearly paid the price for coach Heyneke Meyer’s decision to field a disjointed backline as well as a number of players who had not seen action for long spells.

With sheets of shimmering raindrops lit by the floodlights imparting a surrealistic atmosphere to the stadium, the Boks made a fairy tale start when Ruan Pienaar scored the opening try in the second minute.

The scrum half caught the Pumas by surprise by breaking on the blindside then working a slick one-two with Cornal Hendricks before sprinting to

the corner.

But this was no silver lining – the Boks would not cross Argentina’s line again. Nonetheless, the converted try would at least be the buffer that would eventually secure their victory.

For the Pumas, desperate to eke out a first win in the tournament they joined two seasons ago, the narrow defeat will feel like a win?... at least a moral one.

They competed in every phase and had clearly done their homework on Springbok tactics. This was evident in the way they closed down the space and matched physicality with robustness.

Perversely, the Argentinians’ best moment was part of their undoing. Renowned for their famous “bajada” scrum, they shoved the Boks off the ball the first time the two packs locked horns, but instead of driving home the advantage, the Pumas became too eager and were too often penalised for shoving too early.

The visitors also made the mistake of continuing to kick high balls to Willie le Roux in spite of the Bok fullback continually showing that if there was a suspected weakness in his skill set, fielding up-and-unders is not it.

Splashing through surface water, scrabbling for a ball behaving like a cake of wet soap and falling off tackles because of the battle to get a grip on opponents is tiring, but it was alarming how soon the Boks started walking to line-outs and taking their time over scrums.

Perhaps there was more to Meyer’s remarks in the build-up about better conditioning than met the eye because the Boks, quite apart from the fact that they seemed to have no plan for wet weather, did not look like a team capable of playing a high-paced wide game.

They looked everything but a team who will strike terror into the hearts of the All Blacks and the Wallabies who lie in wait. In fact, the Pumas must fancy their chances of pulling off that longed-for first victory, both in the Rugby Championship and over the Boks, when they meet in the return match in Salta, northwestern Argentina, on Saturday.

In Sydney, Australia, the All Blacks failed for the second time in their history to set a record of 18 consecutive test victories when they were held to a 12-12 draw by the Wallabies.

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