Durban - Coach Heyneke Meyer was trying desperately
to keep his head while South African supporters were losing theirs after
the Springboks made the worst type of history in inexplicably going down
37-25 to the Pumas in the Rugby Championship at Kings Park on
The Springboks’ loss saw them slip to the
bottom of the final Rugby Championship log with Argentina moving to third and the
Wallabies taking the title after stunning the All Blacks in Sydney earlier on
Meyer’s Rugby World Cup plans now lie in
tatters after he had selected his strongest team to guarantee victory at Kings
Park and he was left trying to explain away the most humiliating of defeats.
The Pumas, in contrast, spent Saturday
night pinching themselves - and celebrating - after their bunch of no-hopers had
made history with their first win over the Springboks in 20 Tests.
The Pumas made 11 changes to their team
for Kings Park but played as if they had been together since birth; the
Springboks kept changes to a minimum but were like strangers in the night. It
was their fourth successive loss and the quality of their rugby in their
recent narrow defeats to the Wallabies and the All Blacks is now but a distant
It certainly seemed as if the Springboks
had arrived at Kings Park expecting to merely rubber-stamp Meyer’s win over
what was expected to be a young, ragged, revamped Pumas outfit.
coach could then send his back-up squad, his fringe players and those returning
from injury, to Buenos Aires for next Saturday evening’s friendly for a last hit-out
before the World Cup.
But suddenly, chillingly, Meyer has
nowhere to hide. Buenos Aires is now the final opportunity to break the
depressing run of four defeats on the bounce - to four different nations - and
find some momentum before the September 18 to October 31 tournament.
From the start the Springboks were a metre
off the pace as the Pumas dominated the breakdown, recycling their ball quickly
and slowing down or turning over Springbok possession. The Springboks could not
explain why they were so flat as they prepared so well yet lacked urgency and
intensity. The answer, in a nutshell, was that they were complacent and it
showed in every facet of their game.
The Springbok defence, a traditional
strength, was all over place as the Pumas, easy as pie, created yawning gaps
with simple inside passes and scored three tries off set pieces.
And then there was the Pumas scrum,
dominant and massively influential, bossing the Springboks, winning penalties,
taking tightheads, setting up tries, keeping the South Africans on the backfoot
and almost certainly ending tighthead Vincent Koch’s World Cup dream.
But, of course, Koch was not the only one
The Springbok backrow were left eating the dust of their Pumas
counterparts, bruising lock Eben Etzebeth was largely anonymous, fellow-lock
Lood de Jager battled hard but lineouts went astray and the silly errors, the
dropped passes, the numerous turnovers and the poor kicks kept coming.
It was not an evening for the Springbok
backs who spent most of the night on their heels, made little headway on attack
and were exposed defensively. Handre Pollard was brave but untidy at flyhalf
and, to the chorus of “Lambie, Lambie” from the crowd, the Sharks flyhalf eventually
replaced him in the final quarter.
Jean de Villiers, back after eight months
on the sidelines, was workmanlike and no more but he did clatter into his
tackles and showed no signs of discomfort apart from taking a blow to the jaw.
But it was not a happy day for Jesse Kriel on the wing and the youngster had
few attacking opportunities while he was caught out of position defensively on
a number of occasions.
And, because the Springboks littered the
first half with so many handling errors, the game kept returning to the scrum
where the gleeful Pumas, sniffing blood and with the help of referee Romain
Poite, were dominant.
The streetwise Pumas had done their
homework, hugging the offside line in defence and attacking the Springboks’
inside channel and making a meal of the Bok scrum.
Referee Poite certainly erred, first in
suddenly allowing the Pumas to play quickly from a penalty - and score a try -
after one of their players had been receiving treatment and there were still
four medics on the field, and then denying Bok replacement scrumhalf Cobus
Reinach a try, initially allowing a quick tap penalty and then, as an
afterthought, deciding it had been taken from the wrong spot.
But the Springboks, with good reason,
later made little of the referee’s failings. Their own litany of mistakes was
so long, the quality of their rugby so poor, that it would have been
disingenuous for them to have blamed their defeat on the referee.
Meyer had hoped that a convincing victory
in Durban would make for a smooth, confident build-up to the World Cup starting
in six weeks, but Saturday night’s defeat has ensured that the Springbok coach
and his players will have the rugby public and the media on their backs every
step of the way.