Durban - The Springboks were poor from start to finish as they were stunned 37-25 by a determined and far superior Argentina at Kings Park on Saturday night.
As it happened: Boks v Pumas
The result is Argentina’s first ever Test win against the Boks.
The visitors were full value for their win, but as well as they played they were met by a Springbok performance characterised by poor tackling, unforced errors and a scrum that was clearly second best.
The Boks, quite simply, were nowhere near where they need to be if they are to be considered serious title contenders at this year’s Rugby World Cup.
Heyneke Meyer had spoken of the improved Argentinean backline in the week, and it didn’t take long for the visitors to demonstrate why.
A beautifully worked set piece saw Juan Imhoff slice through the Bok defence before releasing Marcelo Bosch, who galloped through to put the Pumas a try up within the opening two minutes.
The Boks were rocked, but they were on the board after 10 minutes through a Handre Pollard penalty as Kings Park settled down somewhat.
But the strong start from Argentina was sustained, and they flexed their muscles up front by winning a tighthead and then two penalties from three consecutive Bok scrums. Fortunately for the home side, Juan Martin Hernandez was wayward with his shots at goal and the Boks went unpunished.
But poor tackling had crept in to the Springbok game, and they were hurt once more in the 23rd minute.
Scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli somehow slipped through Eben Etzebeth’s tackle before off-loading to Imhoff - the left wing’s pace too much for the Boks as he crashed over the line and Argentina went 14-3 up.
A Pollard penalty narrowed the gap after the Boks tried to get some phases going, but it was about to get much worse for Meyer and his charges.
Another solid Pumas scrum saw them secure possession before moving it to the blindside, and it was all too easy from a South African perspective. Cubelli made the break, and it was a case of simply moving it through the hands to Imhoff, who dived over in the corner for his second.
The Boks, 21-3 down, then found something from somewhere. Jean de Villiers came close down the left and won his side a penalty before taking the decision to set up a lineout. From that set piece, Lood de Jager peeled off the beginnings of a rolling maul to score the hosts’ first try, which Pollard converted.
But the Boks gave away a penalty from the resulting kick-off, and Hernandez stretched the lead to 24-13.
On the stroke of half-time the Boks gave away yet another scrum penalty, and this time referee Romain Poite instructed De Villiers to have a word with tighthead Vincent Koch.
It had not been a good half for Koch, or any Springbok really, and Bosch landed the long penalty to send the Pumas into the half-time break 27-13 up.
Koch, as a result, was sacrificed at half-time for Marcel van der Merwe.
As bad as the first half was for South Africa, the start to the second was nightmarish.
The Pumas had won a penalty close to the Bok line. They tried to tap and go, but were called back by Poite. The whole stadium - the Boks included - were clearly of the mind that Hernandez was going to knock over three points. Instead, the Pumas took another quick tap (allowed despite there being numerous medics on the field) and went left where Imhoff, who must have thought that Christmas had come early, slid in for his hat-trick.
The Boks, poor in all departments, then hit back.
Jesse Kriel had been quiet on the wing, but he broke through to set up fullback Willie le Roux in the 50th minute. Pollard added the extra two and the Boks were back in it at 34-20 with a half hour to play.
Meyer turned to his bench for the final 20 minutes as he sought a miraculous recovery, but when Bosch knocked over a drop goal to make the lead 17 points, the inevitability of a Bok loss began to sink in.
Chants of “Lambie, Lambie” came from the Kings Park crowd after Pollard knocked the restart straight into touch, but by the time the Sharks flyhalf took to the field it was far too late.
Bryan Habana scored in the corner for the Boks in the final minutes, but there was no consolation for the Boks on a night that will take a while to forget.
Tries: Lood de Jager, Willie le Roux, Bryan Habana
Conversions: Handre Pollard (2)
Penalties: Pollard (2)
Tries: Juan Imhoff (3), Marcelo Bosch
Conversions: Juan Martin Hernandez (4)
Penalties: Hernandez, Marcelo Bosch
Drop goal: Bosch
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Substitutes: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Matías Díaz, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino