Boks after bonus

2012-08-21 00:00

CAPE TOWN — It is terribly tempting to view the Springboks’ so-so showing in the Rugby Championship opener at Newlands as a case of “one point lost” rather than “four points gained” in log terms.

Certainly, at least one leading national Sunday newspaper seemed a little generous to South Africa with their “Springboks crush Argentina” front-page headline.

Crush? That may have been stretching things a tad, when you consider that after leading by a threatening 20-3 as early as the 28th minute against opponents very likely to be the weakest of the quartet in their maiden year, the Boks could only manage seven more points over the course of the remaining 52.

Arguably, South Africa are just a little on the back foot already in some respects against their more traditional southern hemisphere foes, New Zealand and Australia, considering their failure to land the killer fourth try against the Pumas.

The Wallabies still look like a less than thoroughly convincing outfit, with some weakness in key positions — evident as they lost by eight points to the All Blacks in Sydney — but with their fluid style of play they will no doubt target a full house when Argentina visit their shores in mid-tournament.

You would also favour the eternally multi-skilled world champions to record at least four tries against the Pumas in Wellington next month.

That is why the Boks being ambitious enough to target not only a back-to-back victory over Argentina in Mendoza this Saturday, but also the extra point to make up for what they failed to achieve at Newlands, is potentially important in the greater scheme of things.

And while just winning itself can obviously hardly be taken for granted, it is possible that the landscape may actually be more favourable for South Africa to grab the “maximum” points haul.

One got a mild feeling at Newlands that the Pumas, deep down, knew they weren’t going to win in their first exposure to the tough former Tri-Nations, and were reasonably content to keep the score down.

Their “losing lap of honour” after the final whistle, knowing that they had done a decent second-half shutout of the Boks, just suggested as much.

Before their famously noisy, emotional home faithful at the Malvinas Argentinas Stadium this weekend, the Pumas may well wish to produce a more up-tempo and daring brand of rugby in the not-unrealistic quest for an upset.

And that, should it occur, could also play conveniently into the hands of the Boks, who may have looked worryingly staid in creative terms last Saturday, but had shown at times in the prior series against England a sprightly ability to put the ball through hands deftly — especially from broken-play or counter-attacking situations.

Although Argentinean rugby is getting more and more street-smart, primarily through the increasing exposure of their best players to French and broader European rugby, history still tells you that the Boks have a pretty good habit of scoring “high” in Argentina. Although all of their last three away Tests against these foes since 2000 have been in Buenos Aires, South Africa have always posted at least 34 points on the board themselves and, in 2004, won with a particularly comfortable 39-7.

A year later it was 34-23 — the game when tempers flared after Jean de Villiers, now the Bok captain, barged the Pumas’ Lucas Borges over some advertising hoardings and head-first into a perimeter moat, while not unreasonably trying to retrieve the ball from him.

Quick-thinking De Villiers grabbed him by a leg and hauled him back up, but it started a real old kerfuffle and De Villiers, a little unluckily, received a yellow card.

Some Pumas fans may not have forgotten that incident and could give the Stormers favourite a hot reception anew on Saturday, although he is a seasoned enough customer not to be unnerved.

There is another factor in the South Africans’ favour this weekend. Speaking ahead of the Newlands meeting, Bok coach Heyneke Meyer reminded at a press briefing that the immediate back-to-back scheduling could benefit his charges.

“We fly back to Argentina with them, which could take a bit of the edge off the home team — they can’t be said to be lying in wait for us on their home turf, where they are especially strong.”

With later acknowledgement from Meyer on Saturday night that his charges, while defending staunchly, had lacked some edge on attack, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that — also armed with greater knowledge now of the Pumas’ 2012 philosophy — the Boks may even prevail more satisfyingly in Mendoza than they did in the Cape.

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