In the end, the Springboks scraped home 13-6 in their opening Rugby Championship fixture, but they spent the final minutes desperately defending their line as Argentina went after a late goal to level the scores.
Torrential rain and hail began falling during the anthems and kept up for the first half. Although conditions eased after the break, there was still steady rain throughout and the pitch was sodden. So there was no chance of the expansive style of play the Springboks are trying to develop, and they even struggled to get their more typical forward-dominated driving game going as the Pumas pack presented a brick wall of defiance.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, who has grown up in Cape Town, where winter storms blowing up from the Antarctic are common, described the conditions as “probably the worst I have ever played in”.
“The ball was so wet and so difficult to handle, you couldn’t play at all,” he said, before describing a comical situation in which Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez tried to kick off, but the ball refused to bounce up off the waterlogged surface.
“The All Blacks kick more and we now run the ball more, we wanted to play exciting rugby today, but we have to be able to play this sort of game as well. There will be more games like this, especially at the World Cup, and I’m not totally happy that we didn’t get a better platform up front,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.
“But even an arm-wrestle was difficult in these conditions, it was so wet that you just couldn’t get going. The rain made it a 50/50 game and 70% of Argentina’s team play in Europe and are more used to conditions like that. They have big, strong forwards and they like a slower game, because their tactics are more about contesting for the ball than continuity.”
The Pumas, despite their epic performance, were sad after the game because they saw it as a missed opportunity to register their first ever win over South Africa.
“We have had very few opportunities to win against the Springboks and we think that was one that we let pass. South Africa have a very good line-up and it’s maybe only today that they did not have their top game. So we are not happy, today was an opportunity to beat them,” Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade said.
The Pumas successfully dominated the Springboks in both the scrums and lineouts to deny them any solid first-phase ball, but referee John Lacey often penalised them at the scrums to give the under-pressure home side a reprieve.
“We complicated their lineout and we’ve worked very hard on our scrum and I think you could see that on the pitch. We consider that we were very good at the scrums, but we were penalised,” captain Agustin Creevy said with more than a hint of frustration.
The late withdrawal of Willem Alberts with a hamstring strain was part of the Springboks’ problems as it meant they were forced to play two openside flanks with Marcell Coetzee coming in for the enforcer in the Springbok pack. The wet ball also meant they focused their lineout throws on the front, where Argentina contested superbly.
Man of the match Francois Louw, the Springbok number six, admitted that his team could have adapted better to the conditions.
“We didn’t execute as well as we should have in the scrums and lineouts. It was a bit loose underfoot for the scrums and lineouts are always difficult in those conditions because you simplify your options and that gives them the chance to effectively compete.
“Those conditions require an immediate mindshift, you’ve got to tighten up and kick more, and our execution of that could have been sharper. We want to continue improving towards the World Cup so that we are on top of our game every time, in any place,” Louw said.