2018 Rugby Championships 

South Africa 34 vs Argentina 21

Saturday 18th August 2018

Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

There was a certain sense of déjà vu as I wanted this match unfold on my television screen. A sense that I had seen something very similar, and not all that long ago. In fact it was that very Saturday morning when the All Blacks played the Wallabies over in Sydney.

It all started with a team that was a bit rusty, trying to find some rhythm and focus in their game, and slowly but surely gaining the upper hand until they had control of the game in almost every department.

A game featuring a come-from-behind victory.

A game featuring a lock forward playing some of the finest rugby seen from a big bruiser in a very long while.

A game where the flyhalf’s boot malfunctioned time and again as kicks at the posts simply refused to go over the cross bar.

A game where the forward pack gained dominance and then simply demolished their opponents.

A game where the winning team scored six tries. The only difference in the try scoring stakes was that one game featured 5 tries by the back division and one by a forward, while the other gave us all six tries scored by the backs. Oh, and in the first game one of the wings got two tries, and in the other both the wings got two each.

Strange how the rugby gods conspired to give us two Test matches with so many similarities?

Sadly, the Springbok vs Pumas encounter down in Durban was watched by a somewhat empty Kings Park stadium as just 26,836 fans filled half the 52 000 seats on offer. Durban’s status as a host city for both rugby and cricket Tests must surely be in jeopardy. Even Sydney in Australia, where rugby is no big deal, could muster up 66 318 people at the ANZ Stadium, almost 40 000 more than the Durbanites could offer. And do not blame the price of the tickets as so many are wont to do! Ticket prices ranged between R100 and R400, with the latter offering seating on the lower Western stand. For the price of a hamburger and a couple of beers you could watch Test rugby!

The Springboks went out onto the field with the intention of making a fast start to the game, and they did, it was fast, it was furious, except for some very poor handling, and strange decisions in the early exchanges. Pressure was brought to bear on the Argentinean line, and then possession would be coughed up through a variety of errors. Perhaps chief amongst these was the inability to protect the ball on the ground once possession had been secured. If Faf de Klerk was caught in the ruck nobody else was taking responsibility for controlling and picking up the ball at the base or after a tackle.

The Pumas scored their second try, and gained the lead, as a direct result of this issue. Siya Kolisi made a break down the right flank, went to ground with the ball, with a support runner also going over the ball, but leaving it unprotected at the back. The Argentinean counter-ruck stepped over, wing Ramiro Moyano picked the ball and made 20 metres before timing a perfect pass to Pablo Matera for his fourth international try.

South Africa conceded 4 turnovers in similar fashion when the ball was picked at the back of a ruck by Puma counterruckers or when the ball bobbled loose.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed as the fault lies with the loose trio and the closest backs, who hang off the ruck waiting for the pass, rather than going in to secure the possession.

Much of the Springboks’ early problems centred around the fact that the players were struggling to find each other; passes were going astray; there were too many hopeful prayerful passes; balls slapped backwards; and speculative offloads rather than the clinical precision that is needed in international rugby. All of these problems contributed to 38 passes going astray in the game, and 24 handling errors.

The Pumas were far more accurate in their hand to hand ball handling, with just 24 passes going astray, and 20 handling errors.

The first half in particular, saw the Springboks fritter away at least 5 scoring opportunities through a variety of errors. The attacking lineouts were malfunctioning, especially when the ball was thrown deep to Warren Whiteley at the back. Somehow he and Lions team-mate Malcolm Marx simply could not find each other. (Many have suggested that the problem was with Marx’s throwing, but close inspection suggests that the problem was really to be found in the timing of Whiteley’s jumping. The ball passed over his head at a perfect height, but he was not there to receive it.)

One has to question the lineout caller’s persistence with calling the deep throw when in the Argentinean 22. The combination of Etzebeth and Du Toit was working like clockwork in the middle of the lineout and it made better sense to throw the ball to either of them, and set up the drive. A tactical error that could and should have been fixed. Three lineouts went astray at the back.

Despite the problems at the tail of the lineout, the Springboks dominated this set-piece throughout the game, taking 15 more on their own throw and stealing 2 on the Argentinean throw. The Pumas managed to secure 11 lineouts, but also lost three due to bad throws and managed a single spoiling steal of a Bok ball.

Once the Springboks clicked into gear and the passes started to go to hand, with clever and decisive decisions, and opportunistic probing, they looked so much better.

The scrum started to gain complete ascendancy, earning a 100% success rate while raking two tightheads, and earning two scrum penalties and a free kick as the Puma scrum struggled to stay in contention. The ball at the base of the Springbok scrum was invariably stable and safe, while the Argentinean ball was almost always under retreating feet and thus pressure for the scrumhalf.

The 30-minutes after half time saw the Springboks click into high gear and take the game away from the Argentineans as they scored 17 unanswered points. The two young Springbok wings were starting to enjoy themselves and caused problems for the Puma defenders every time they touched the ball. Their kick chasing of the De Klerk box kick was as quick and direct, with great timing on the tackle of the ball receiver.

Of course, the moment the coach decided to start bringing on his substitutes the continuity of play amongst the backs fell apart as the new entrants struggled to get into the game.

Damian Willemse had replaced Andre Esterhuizen in the 63rd minute, but had gone to flyhalf with Pollard shifting into the inside centre berth, then Lionel Mapoe arrived 10 minutes later to replace Lukhanyo Am at 13, which gave the Springboks an entirely new midfield.

The next replacement puzzled me completely. I am not quite sure why Embrose Papier was sent on to replace Aphiwe Dyantyi on the wing in the 74th minute, but that meant that the entire Springbok starting backline had been rejigged for the last quarter of the game, with just Willie le Roux and Makazole Mapimpi still on the field in their original positions.

Perhaps the coach was experimenting, but this was the time when the Springboks should have turned the screws and established a massive psychological edge before next week’s return match in South America, I believe an opportunity was missed, and it disrupted the back line that was starting to look like a unit.

Speaking of units, the back three of Willie le Roux, Makazole Mapimpi, and Aphiwe Dyantyi functioned exceptionally well together. Le Roux is undoubtedly one of the cleverest full backs around and he has the ability to put support runners into space. Both wings know how to run support lines and play well off the fullback. Yes, a mistake under the high ball by Le Roux early in the game gave the Argentineans their first try, but it came at a time when the entire team was struggling to find some form, and he quickly fixed his mistakes as he had a hand in three of the Springbok tries. His pinpoint cross-field kick to find Aphiwe Dyantyi out on the left wing for his try was a moment of sheer brilliance.

Willie le Roux must have come very close to a Man of the Match award!

Another unit that needs some thought is the loose trio. From my perspective, Warren Whiteley is not quite up to scratch as an international No 8. He carried the ball just 8 times for 49 meters, but seemed to run into the tackle rather than looking to release outside runners. Once or twice he seemed undecided about where to go with the ball in hand. For long stretches of the game he was completely anonymous in almost all aspects of the game, and did not impose himself in any particular area. His tackling, often his best department, was of the stopping variety rather than the dominant variety, and his presence in the loose was wanting. He may struggle against more forceful opponents.

The experiment with two fetchers, Kolisi and Louw can perhaps be deemed successful, as they contributed 14 carries, 17 tackles, and 6 dominant tackles between them, although Francois Louw’s fitness might be a bit doubtful. Marco van Staden’s cameo 20 minute appearance gave him 3 carries, two handling errors, 7 tackles, one turnover won, but two conceded. It was a fair debut, but not great, when measured in cold hard stats.

The tight five, whether it was the starting five, or the three substitutes that finished the game, they can all stand proud. They were the rock upon which South Africa built their victory. All 8 contributed, and all 8 were strong in contact, on defence, and in the set-pieces and the drives. It was good to see a Springbok pack playing as well as this unit did on Saturday.

A very special mention must go to Eben Etzebeth.

Nine months out of the game due to injury, surgery, and rehabilitation would suggest an unfit, ring rusty, and probably uncertain return in his very first game since his injury. Yet the giant simply stepped into the game as if he had never been away, and produced one of the most destructive, physically powerful and committed 80 minutes of rugby of any lock in the game of rugby.

He disrupted the Argentinean lineouts by his sheer presence, he stole a good one too. His scrummaging was impressive, and his ball carrying was monstrous.

Etzebeth made 17 carries for a total of 89 meters, won six lineouts and stole another. He made 12 tackles, 4 of which were hugely dominant, and missed just 1.  And then there was his support play in the rucks, mauls and loose.

Eben Etzebeth is back, and you may have to use weapons to get him out of the Bok second row!

He was my Man of the Match.

Turning to the Argentineans. There was a typically “smash & grab” performance. They lived off the scraps that fell from the Bok table. Bok inaccuracies and lapses in concentration gave the Argies some ball to play with. It was intercepts and gathering loose balls, it was picking the ball up after a counter-ruck, it was opportunistic, it was all a bit ragged and a bit desperate.

Their front row struggled with the power of the Beast, Marx and Malherbe, and had no answer when the starting three were replaced by Kitshoff, Mbonambi, and du Toit.

Their backs do not play to a particular pattern or game plan, living off the opportunist moment rather than the well-constructed device. They flyhalf, Sanchez, had a bit of a nightmare.

It was quickly evident that they were trying to slow the game down at every opportunity. Their established tactic of slowing the ball on the ground was on show, whilst a lot of beyond-the-ball cleanouts and holding was allowed by referee O’Keefe. They persisted with running obstructive lines with the ball in hand, and looking for ways to get between the Boks and the ball. Intercepts seemed to be a planned tactic.

Whilst playing obstructive rugby can rattle a lesser team, as it did the Springboks of 2016 and 2017, the tactic did not work on Saturday.

Quite simply, the Pumas were overpowered by the Springboks.

It remains to be seen whether they can pick themselves up before next week’s return match.

This was by no means a flawless Springbok performance. But it was another performance that shows that changes are happening under the guidance of Rassie Erasmus. The Springboks are working on playing a fast, fluid game, with intelligence and opportunism in equal measure.

Sure, they made mistakes, sure there were inaccuracies, silly moments, poor execution, and even downright bad moments. But they have banked a bonus-point home win for the first time in ages and scored six tries to boot. All six tries were scored by the backs, which is another little change-up from the past!

It is way too early to celebrate, but this is team that is slowly developing into a good team. They again showed exceptional calm when down on the scoreboard, much as they did against England. They also showed the discipline and thoughtfulness needed by a good side as they worked out their ring rust, fixed the mistakes, and produced an altogether more intense and focussed second half.

There are weaknesses in the team, there are many “work-ons,” but a solid foundation is being laid.

Individual Player Assessments

South Africa

15 Willie le Roux: 8/10

The Pumas scored a try off a high-ball mistake, but that was perhaps the only flaw in his performance. A constant threat on attack, solid on defence, one huge tackle stands out in the memory. A clever display of quick, thinking rugby, creating space and time for his support runners, with a special moment when his cross-kick to set up Dyantyi’s first try.

14 Makazole Mapimpi: 6/10
Grabbed his chance with both hands. Looked composed with the ball in hand, and tested his opponents every time he was given space out wide. Two tries and plenty of running meters, 128 in all.  Made 5 tackles, but missed three. Two were rated as dominant tackles. One good turnover too.

13 Lukhanyo Am: 6/10

Great try in the eighth minute, good defence, plenty of scrounging for work, although he tended to drift too close to the collision point when setting up to defend. Left exploitable space between himself and his winger.  One very good turnover. Still just a little too much step & jink with the ball in hand, which makes him predictable. Needs to run onto the ball at pace.

12 André Esterhuizen: 5/10
Somewhat anonymous at times, and there was no subtlety to his game as he simply crashed the ball up time and again, with an upright body position which made him vulnerable for the strip or the smother tackle. He sucked in a lot of Puma defenders, but it was just a little pedestrian, and not nearly clever enough. Has not worked out how to take the ball over or through a tackle to release his runners. One very good break to set up Dyantyi’s second try, and some strong defensive hits.

11 Aphiwe Dyantyi: 7/10
Although he was handed the Man of the Match award, it was on the back of clever work by the initiators, le Roux, Pollard, and De Klerk. Notwithstanding, his finishing was impeccable, and he was always looking for work. Lost a ball in contact. I worry that he is falling into the “step & jink” habit before he turns on the afterburners. This slows him by a critical split second and will allow the top defenders to read him.

10 Handré Pollard: 5/10
An off day with the boot, missing five of seven. (Much the same as Beauden Barrett, who missed three much easier ones on the day!) Also tried a couple too many no-look passes that went astray, but there were some good touches too, moments of clever thinking, solid defending, and good line kicking. An average day at the office.

9 Faf de Klerk: 7/10

Started a bit rusty, but soon upped the tempo and became the pivot around which the Bok game revolved. His box kicking was spot on. Had a hand in two Bok tries with clever thinking and passing.  Very clever long pass for one Mapimpi try. Score a try too. Kept the Puma loose forwards occupied around the fringes.

8 Warren Whiteley: 4/10
Anonymous. Did not climb in and help at the breakdowns, tending to hang out of the tough stuff, His timing on the jump at the back of the lineout was way out. A silly knock-on when opportunity to score was looming. His defence was good.

7 Siya Kolisi: 6/10

Some aggressive defence, and good carries and linking. Struggled a bit to adapt to the requirements of the blindside game. Quietly confident captaincy.

6 Francois Louw: 6/10
Not match-fit, by any stretch of the imagination, so he sometimes lagged a bit in open play. Was a constant threat at the breakdowns, and made his tackles count.  One really great back-tackle, followed by a rebound onto his feet and then earned the turnover penalty.

  1. Pieter-Steph du Toit: 8/10

A monster on defence, 17 tackles, of which three were dominant. Carried the ball 10 times for 39 meters, mostly in the really hard stuff. Supported his lock partner’s carries with gusto. Made a lot of ground in open play, and was quick in taking a tap-penalty that led to try.

4 Eben Etzebeth: 9/10
There is not much more one can say than I did not say in the body of this report. An immense performance.

3 Frans Malherbe: 7/10

The quiet man in the Bok front row, he simply keeps his eyes on the front, knuckles down, and destroys. One of his better performances. Rock-solid in the scrum, perfect timing in lineout support, great carrying with good hands too. Plenty of robust tackles.

Malcolm Marx: 7/10

Has to take some of the blame for the three missed lineouts, but made up for that bit of wobbly play with a huge performance over the ball, winning four turnovers. Great carrying too, smashing the ball up on 8 occasions.

Tendai Mtawarira: 7/0

When the Beast is hungry, he is more than a handful. Scrummed with massive power. Went on the charge with the ball in hand too. Made a couple of huge hits. A good shift.

Replacements:

16 Bongi Mbonambi 7/10  (On for Malcolm Marx, 65th min)
Fifteen minutes to show that he is a worthy understudy to Marx.

17 Steven Kitshoff 7/10  (On for Tendai Mtawarira, 52nd min)
Two massive tackles, and some good carries. Added his usual power to the front row.

18 Thomas du Toit 6/10  (On for Frans Malherbe, 58th min)
Powerful scrums, some good tackles, a great turnover.  Needs to take care in the cleanouts, just a little over-enthusiastic with the shoulder.

19 Marvin Orie
Not used.

20 Marco van Staden 5/10  (On for Francois Louw, 60th min)
Made some silly mistakes, probably overeager. One very good turnover, but was turned over twice. Made a tackle or two. But missed too.
21 Embrose Papier (On for Aphiwe Dyantyi, 74th min)
On the wing, and does not really get a chance to be rated.

22 Lionel Mapoe 5/10  (On for Lukhanyo Am, 73rd min)
Seemed a little lost in the hurly-burly, and slipped a tackle. No impact on the game.

23 Damian Willemse 5/10  (On for Andre Esterhuizen, 63rd min)
No mistakes, one good clearance, otherwise was well protected by his team-mates.

Argentine.

15 Emiliano Boffelli 6/10
Some nice touches with the ball, made some yards with the ball in hand. Not given the space to move that makes him dangerous. Safe under the high ball. but he was well-marked out wide.

14 Bautista Delguy 7/10
Made a couple of very good turnovers, made some good linebreaks too. The best of the Puma backs. He got the chance to break the line on a few occasions and he won a few turnovers for his team.
7/10

13 Matías Moroni 3/10
A poor day at the office. Slipped tackles, or simply missed tackles completely, and dropped the ball. Did not seem to have any idea what to do with the ball.

12 Bautista Ezcurra 5/10
Did not get much chance to carry the ball and was shut down by Esterhuizen. Good tackling, stopping Esterhuizen a couple of times.

11 Ramiro Moyano 7/10
Some great poaching of the ball, and ran with determination. Gave the wide defence much to think about. Some silly moments on defence, though.

10 Nicolás Sánchez 4/10
When he is good, he can be very good. He was not good on Saturday. Poor defence. One good moment on attack, and that was about it. Spent a lot of time complaining about things to the referee and the touch-judges, which suggests his mind was not always on the game.

9 Gonzalo Bertranou 5/10
Steady, but often anonymous. A couple of attempted breaks around the fringes, and good distribution.

8 Javier Ortega Desio 5/10
Busy, but without influence. Seems a bit light for the job, but matched Whiteley all the way.

7 Marcos Kremer 5/10
Spent the afternoon defending and then defending some more. Did not get a chance to show his ball-carrying power.

6 Pablo Matera 7/10
He gave his all. There can be no better accolade for the Pumas’ best player on the day. Worked over the ball, carried the ball, tackled, and then did it all over again. Scored a good try.

5 Matías Alemanno 3/10
Spent his afternoon trying to tackle Etzebeth or Du Toit, and got flattened in the process.

4 Guido Petti 4/10
Like his lock partner he was simply blown away by his opponents. Made a couple of tackles, caught some lineout ball, and that was it.

3 Juan Figallo 2/10
He is not Test rugby fit. He is not Super rugby fit either. Well beaten in the scrums and missing in action elsewhere.

2 Agustín Creevy 4/10
Probably the worst I have seen him play. He was ineffectual over the ball, getting cleaned more often than not, and his influence in the scrums was missing. Not a good day at the office.

1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro 3/10
Struggled in the scrums, and was invisible elsewhere.

Replacements:

16 Diego Fortuny (On for Agustin Creevy, 72nd min):
Not enough time to be rated.

17 Santiago García Botta 3/10 (On for Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 51st min):
He didn’t make any difference, took a pounding in some scrums.
3/10

18 Santiago Medrano 3/10 (On for Juan Figallo, 63rd min):
Made no difference.

19 Tomás Lavanini 5/10 (On for Matías Alemanno, 54th min):
Brought some muscle to the pack. Carried the ball well on occasion.

20 Tomás Lezana 5/10 (On for Pablo Matera, 51st min):
Covered a lot of ground and made some tackles.

21 Martín Landajo 5/10 (On for Gonzalo Bertranou, 63rd min):
Perhaps he should have started. Quicker across the ground, better service too. But too late to have any influence.

22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias (On for Bautista Ezcurra, 80th min):
Not enough time to be rated.

23 Juan Cruz Mallia:
Not used

The scorers:

For South Africa:
Tries: Am, Dyantyi 2, Mapimpi 2, De Klerk
Cons: Pollard 2

For Argentina:
Tries: Sanchez, Matera, Moroni
Cons: Sanchez 3

Teams:

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse

Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Diego Fortuny, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Cruz Malli