South Africa moved to the top of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship by overcoming rain and hail to beat a brave Argentina 13-6 at a soaked Loftus Versfeld on Saturday night.
On a day where the weather moved from unbelievable winter rains, to a bizarre monsoon drench and even hail, the Boks needed to battle their own demons as well to get out of this dogfight with a victory.
It wasn’t nice to watch, it wasn’t pretty. And given what we’ve come to expect from the Bok side under coach Heyneke Meyer, it wasn’t even close to what they would be satisfied with.
But on a night where the dreadful conditions – easily the worst Loftus has seen in the past 20 years - dictated just how the game would be played, the win will be greeted with a mixture of relief and disappointment, especially with a tougher return game next week in Salta awaiting the Boks.
Perhaps in a way it was a firm reminder for the Boks. After spending week after week with Meyer talking about speeding up the game, and the need for quick ball to score tries, of the Boks preaching the gospel of an all-encompassing game plan and their impressive try-scoring list over the past few years, it was perhaps fitting that the game we all love would remind the Green and Gold that sometimes you simply have to win ugly.
Given that the Rugby World Cup next year is likely to take place in similar conditions, it was perhaps fitting to be reminded that points on the board, and not necessarily the style of play, will determine the next world champions.
Yet, that is all good for afterthought, but the Boks will return to their camp with a long, hard look at themselves after they failed to meet the standards they set for themselves.
Ironically there were two moments that settled the contest – as close as it was – and denied a plucky Argentinean side a historic draw in South Africa.
The fact that both took place virtually in the same area may be a coincidence, but the Boks will be extremely happy they managed to squeak home in a game that could have gone horribly wrong for them.
The first strike – coming no less than 75 seconds in the game – gave the Boks the advantage. A monster lineout drive from the first setpiece, opened a gap for Ruan Pienaar to dart blind, complete a perfect one-two with Cornal Hendricks to score in the corner and give the Boks an excellent start.
It perhaps created a false sense of security, especially after the Boks won so handsomely at the FNB Stadium last year, but in the context of the game, the strike was massive.
Yet it was the second moment, coming three minutes from time, that really will be remembered by the Boks. Willie le Roux – a tower of strength and one of the few to actually hold his name high on the night – took a high ball with ease, but then inexplicably tapped and passed back to Morne Steyn. Steyn’s kick was charged down and it took a desperate dive by Damian de Allende to save what would have been a score-equalling try. Desperation indeed, and it paid off for the Boks.
The less said about the Boks performance in the rest of the game the better. While Argentina have always been a nuggety team who like to get under the skin of their opposition, in these particularly harrowing conditions, the Boks own ineptitude at times compounded this fact even more.
There were times the Boks simply couldn’t hold onto the ball, spilled it in promising positions and looked flat as they became more and more frustrated with themselves.
De Allende’s save was perhaps his most memorable action, and the long layoff both he and captain Jean de Villiers have had showed up more than usual today, at times unsure in a combination that still needs to settle.
The same can be said of Handre Pollard, who looked a bundle of nerves and perhaps tried to hard at times, being replaced by Steyn in the second half, even though the Boks frustrations continued. Pollard will learn from the experience and come back stronger, as will De Allende, but the Boks may be forced to rethink tactics when the weather doesn’t suit them.
The late withdrawal of Willem Alberts to a hamstring strain would also have hampered them, as they were robbed of their first option of ball carrier and a solid lineout man as well. But it did also give Marcel Coetzee some valuable game time in the process.
All in all, the Boks will be happy they escaped the monsoon embarrassment of being upset at home. They weren’t great, will have more than enough to talk about at the video review and have enough to work on when they head for Argentina.
In a Rugby Championship that was always going to be tough, Argentina proved that no team can be taken for granted. The game proved weather is a great leveler and you always need to play the conditions to the best of your ability.
The Boks were shown up in areas at Loftus, by the opposition and the rain.
But a win puts them top of the Rugby Championship. They have much food for thought after this performance and a week to put it right before they meet Argentina again.
South Africa - Try: Ruan Pienaar. Conversion: Handre Pollard. Penalties: Pollard, Morne Steyn.
Argentina - Penalties: Nicolas Sanchez (2).