South Africa mauled Argentina 38-21 in a penalty-laden final round of the 2022 Rugby Championship at Kings Park, Durban.
The Springboks and Los Pumas shared a eight-tries in a stop-start affair to close out the 2022 edition of the southern hemisphere’s premier international rugby competition.
South Africa and Argentina played out a fascinating, and often crazy and error-strewn, Rugby Championship Test match on Africa’s east coast.
The Boks scored five tries, four from set pieces. The Pumas crossed thrice in a see-sawing game that had six yellow cards and multiple dubious officiating calls.
Referee Damon Murphy had an abysmal game, killing the spectacle with his trigger-happy style as both teams racked up 39 penalties.
Murphy handed out cards willy-nilly, and he missed some simple calls, which a schoolboy-level ref should catch. The long and the short of it is that the Aussie official – and his crew – had a shocker.
The home side went 17-nil ahead before the tourists pulled back the score to 17-14 early in the second stanza.
Both teams traded converted tries to make it 24-21 going into the last 10 minutes.
South Africa reopened the 10-point gap for the third time before dotting down on the hooter to take the points.
Frans Steyn was flawless from the tee, kicking one penalty and four conversions for 11 points.
Emiliano Boffelli added all three Pumas’ conversions to tie Richie Mo’unga as the competition’s highest points scorer with 71 points.
Earlier, New Zealand had cruised to a comfortable 40-14 bonus point victory over a lacklustre and ill-disciplined Australia at fortress Eden Park in Auckland earlier in the day.
The All Blacks went into the game level on 14 points with the Springboks. The Kiwis, however, took a slender 13-point points differential advantage over the Boks after they walloped the Wallabies.
South Africa had to win with a bonus point and by a margin of 39 points to claim the 2022 Rugby Championship, which was always highly unlikely. They did neither.
It was not to be, though. The All Blacks retained the Rugby Championship trophy by a point in what was the closest-fought tournament since Argentina joined the competition in 2012.
South Africa led at the break, but Argentina fought back in the second half to extinguish any hopes of Rugby Championship glory for the World Champions.
Jasper Wiese and Siya Kolisi both scored converted tries inside half an hour. Steyn slotted a long-range penalty from inside his half to put the hosts 17-0 ahead after 38 minutes.
The hosts have had a bit of a crisis at flyhalf. Handré Pollard, Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse have all played in the first receiver role this campaign, but all three were unavailable for various reasons.
Steyn became the fourth standoff for Nienaber’s team in six Rugby Championship games. The utility back last played flyhalf for South Africa 14 years ago versus Italy back in 2008.
This would be the 35-year-old veteran’s second start at 10 for the Boks, the last when he was only 21 years old.
Springboks began well and should have been ahead by more but for handling errors and the erratic boot of Steyn, who missed three penalty touch-finders.
On the stroke of halftime, Bertranou crashed over from close range to silence the boisterous home crowd. Boffelli added the extras.
Micheal Cheika’s side came out with purpose after the interval, scoring soon after the restart to rock Jacques Nienaber’s charges.
Juan Martín González scored a stunning try for a loose forward to make it a three-point game after the extras.
Cheika’s men fought hard and should have scored but for superb work at the breakdown by the Boks.
Instead, it was the hosts who hit back to reopen the two-score advantage after 55 minutes.
Another driving maul ended in points, this time a penalty try as the hosts went 24-14 up.
Jerónimo De La Fuente also saw yellow for totting up offences by his team. Eben Etzebeth followed on the hour, but the lock was unfortunate.
Another dubious call by the officials saw Etzebeth punished for pushing Pablo Matera in the back into his own player, which hurt Boffelli.
But Etzebeth’s push did not affect Boffelli, who jumped into his own team-mate. Faf de Klerk followed Etzebeth to the sideline as the Pumas pounded the Springboks’ try line.
Matías Moroni crossed moments later to make it 24-21 with 12 to play. By now, it was all Pumas.
Somehow, Nienaber’s side kept out the light blue and white hoops despite being down to 13.
Mbongeni Mbonambi crashed over for another try for the ‘Hooker’s Union’ to settle the contest.
There was, however, time for a last-gasp try after the siren to finish off a fabulous tournament when Kurt-Lee Arendse finished a slick move.
South Africa dominated a one-sided first stanza but only took a 10-point lead into the sheds after a late Argentina score.
September 24 is Heritage Day in South Africa as well as National Braai Day, and the Boks came out firing, cooking with gas.
Nienaber’s men played fast and loose, going against their methodical and traditional conservative style.
Springboks started well and should have been ahead by more but for handling errors and the erratic boot of Steyn, who missed three penalty touch-finders.
Argentina sat back and let the Boks dictate as the forwards dismantled the South American’s pack.
South Africa’s pack won five scrum and maul penalties apiece as Argentina’s forwards struggled.
In all, Los Pumas conceded 13 penalties and received two yellow cards in the first stanza.
The hosts scored twice through strong set pieces; a bulldozing scrum and a fierce driving maul.
The home team were unlucky to have a score taken off the board by the TMO after a previous driving maul in the 11th minute.
Marcos Kremer and González both went to the naughty step for cynical fouls in the set pieces as the Bok juggernaut took control.
Kremer left in the 16th minute for cynical offsides at the base of the opposition’s scrum, and three minutes later, the hosts were on the board.
Wiese dotted down for the easiest try he’ll score after the Bok pack dismantled the Pumas’ forwards, walking the opposition backwards over their line.
Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro had a nightmare against Frans Malherbe, conceding two scrum penalties for collapsing.
Willie Le Roux went for glory but got held up by locks Tomás Lavanini and Matías Alemanno.
The pressure, however, told as the hosts turned down their sixth shot at goal in favour of kicking to the corner.
A side entry by González sees the flanker go to the bin.
Kolisi broke through the powerful driving maul to score his eighth Test try to the delight of the crowd.
Wiese won a turnover penalty at the breakdown inside his half. It allowed Steyn to call for the tee from 55 metres.
Despite Kings Park being at sea level, Steyn had enough on his kick for about another 10 metres.
Argentina scored twice on either side of halftime to kill any chances South Africa had of Rugby Championship titles.
The World Champions led by 17 with halftime approaching.
But a mistake at the back by the home side saw Bertranou put his team on the scoreboard with a late first-half try.
Eight minutes after the restart, González danced his way down the sideline, sending Le Roux to the shops with a swivel of the hips before racing away to score.
Another driving maul ended in points, this time a penalty try as the visitors crumpled in a heap.
However, the Boks saw two players go to the sin bin. Etzebeth first then De Klerk for cynical play near his try line.
Etzebeth’s card capped a day of high farce for the officials. The burly lock was sin-binned for pushing Matera out of the way while the ball was in the air.
Moreover, Boffelli jumped to claim the high ball but fell awkwadly after colliding with his own teammate.
Etzebeth had nothing to do with the winger’s fall, yet he was carded depire clear TV evidence that he did not harm Boffelli. Madness.
The penalties kept mounting as the wind swirled and the rain came down. Referee Damon Murphy had to speak to Kolisi about the infringements in the red zone.
Nienaber’s men gave away seven penalties in nine minutes resulting in two yellow cards and a converted Moroni try.
Los Pumas kept coming, and finally, the dam wall burst as Moroni crossed untouched after the Pumas battered the Bok try line. Boffelli made no mistake.
The Boks did not give in though; instead, they went back to their driving maul, scoring through Mbonambi. Steyn converted, and Joel Sclavi went to the bin.
Arendse ended the game after a sublime interchange between Makazole Mapimpi and Canan Moodie.
Final Score: South Africa 38 (17) Argentina 21 (7)
Tries – Wiese, Kolisi, penalty try, Mbonambi, Arendse
Pen – Steyn
Con – Steyn (4)
Cards – Etzebeth (Yellow, 60′), De Klerk (Yellow, 65′)
Tries – Bertranou, González, Moroni
Con – Boffelli (3)
Cards – Kremer (Yellow, 16′), González (Yellow, 27′), De La Fuente (Yellow, 56′), Sclavi (Yellow, 73′)
Referee: Damon Murphy [AUS]
Assistant Ref: Frank Murphy [IRE]
Assistant Ref 2: Andrea Piardi [ITA]
TMO: Chris Hart [NZ]
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Frans Steyn, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Retshegofaditswe Nche, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Duane Vermeulen, 21 Kwagga Smith, 22 Francois de Klerk, 23 Kurt-Lee Arendse
15 Juan Cruz Mallía, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo De La Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martín González, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Eduardo Bello, 2 Julián Montoya (captain), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Pedro Rubiolo, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Benjamín Urdapilleta, 23 Bautista Delguy