RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: Scrappy Boks hold on to beat Pumas, but performance raises more questions than answers

RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP: Scrappy Boks hold on to beat Pumas, but performance raises more questions than answers

South Africa 22 (15) Argentina 21 (9)

There was no shortage of physicality and endeavour but the match was punctuated by errors and certainly didn’t follow the script the Boks must have planned in the build-up. Yet they won and won ugly. There is glory in that. 

Few fringe players did their World Cup chances any good, although flyhalf Manie Libbok must have booked his place – if it were in doubt before this game. Libbok scored 12 points and was one of the few players to catch the eye in a scrappy outing. 

But lock Marvin Orie and flank Marco van Staden, two men vying for those few places still in the balance, will not sleep easily. 

Losing scrumhalf Grant Williams within three seconds of the start of the match – knocked cold by fullback Juan Cruz Mallia who chased the kickoff – led to a lengthy delay. Williams unsurprisingly never returned to the field and the long delay sucked even more life from the contest. 

The anthems and the now ubiquitous introduction to minor dignitaries, along with the presentation of all South Africa’s previous World Cup winners, meant the scheduled 17:05 kickoff only happened at 17:10. 

Then Williams’ unfortunate injury led to another seven-minute delay. From the time players took to the Ellis Park pitch to the first real action of the game once play restarted, nearly 20 minutes had elapsed. From kickoff to the end, the match took more than two hours. 

Mallia made direct contact to Williams’ head when trying to effect a charge-down, but Irish referee Andrew Brace deemed no foul play. It was a fair call even though Williams suffered as a consequence. 

Faf de Klerk entered the contest in the first minute and had time to do almost a full Pilates class warm-up before he was asked to actually play. 

Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Emirates Airline Park on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Stuttering play 

The delays and staccato start to the game was a harbinger of things to come as the Boks never found any rhythm, although they were the better team in the first half once they settled down. But they never looked entirely comfortable. 

The home team made 179 tackles to the Pumas’ 94 and they only had 41% possession. 

First-half tries from Eben Etzebeth, who was a towering presence as usual, and the hard-working Damian de Allende were obvious highlights. However, the Boks could not subdue a Pumas side that doggedly made life difficult for the hosts. 

Wing Mateo Carreras and centre Lucio Cinti were impressive in m

…. to be continued
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