Morné Steyn (File)
Cape Town - Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer hailed flyhalf Morné Steyn for his role in a 27-6 win over newcomers Argentina on Saturday as the revamped southern hemisphere championship kicked off.
The result took the Springboks to the top of the table on points difference after world champions New Zealand made an impressive start by winning 27-19 against Australia in Sydney.
Leading 2011 Rugby World Cup points scorer Steyn went into the Newlands Test against the Pumas under media and public pressure following three mediocre mid-year outings against England.
Steyn, from three-time Super Rugby champions, the Bulls, missed 12 of 20 kicks at goal and his general form was criticised despite the Springboks winning two of the Tests and drawing the other.
But former Bulls coach Meyer, who replaced out-of-contract Peter de Villiers this year, never lost faith in the unassuming Steyn and predicted before the Pumas match that the pivot would silence his critics.
Steyn was voted man of the match after an excellent performance as he steered his five mainly difficult place kicks between the posts for a 12-point haul and created the game-clinching third try for right wing Bryan Habana.
"Morné trained really well during the week and I had a feeling he was going to produce the goods against Argentina. He played a very good game," said the coach.
"I think hard about the make-up of the team every day and what is important in my view is that you have half-backs who can control a game and I believe Morné has that ability."
Skipper and outside centre Jean de Villiers endorsed the views of Meyer after an often scrappy match which South Africa always looked like winning without showing the sort of form that would seriously worry the New Zealand All Blacks.
"Morné is the sort of player who responds well to criticism and the performance he produced in this game is the best way to answer your critics," said De Villiers.
Meyer lamented the loss of hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who damaged the cruciate ligaments in his right knee soon after the kick-off and will miss the rest of the season.
"Bismarck is excellent at protecting the ball and we missed that, but his absence was felt for more than just his ball-retention skills," explained the coach.
"We have a very young pack of forwards and Bismarck was important for his leadership and experience. He is also an excellent ball stealer and we missed that too."
Impressive Pumas skipper and No 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said: "Argentina made history today and we feel honoured to be the first players from the country to play in this Championship.
"This was a high-intensity rugby match and I am proud of my players for never giving up. I am also grateful to those who worked so hard for so many years to create this opportunity for us."