South Africa scored a late try to earn a 30-23 Rugby Championship victory over Argentina’s Pumas at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
Lions Super Rugby captain Warren Whiteley scored a try two minutes from full time to snatch the victory for South Africa who had trailed by 10 points minutes earlier.
At the heart of the Boks match-saving fightback was will-o’-the-wisp scrumhalf Faf de Klerk who prompted the scoring spree with several instances of inspirational play when his side was staring defeat in the face.
The Boks served early warning of their attacking intent when they tried to run the ball from deep inside their own in the opening minute after fielding Argentina’s kick-off. It may also have reflected the Boks’ confidence in their ability to strike from deep options when a clearing kick may have been a safer option.
Springbok Elton Jantjies was off target with a goalable seventh-minute penalty but he imposed himself on an attacking sortie moments later when he found a gap. As he was brought down he fed fullback Johan Goosen who laid on a scoring pass to rightwing Ruan Combrinck.
Jantjies goaled from the touchline for a 7-0 lead.
Both sides showed a willingness to run the ball when opportunities presented itself but neither could manage to breach the defence as the match wound towards the 15th-minute mark.
At this stage, the place-kickers Jantjies and Nicolás Sánchez traded penalties to push the scoreline out to 10-3 after 17 minutes.
Argentina suffered a setback in the 22nd minute when their leftwing Manuel Montero was yellow-carded for a dangerous tip tackle on Damian de Allende but they summoned every ounce of courage as they bravely denied the Boks any chance of exploiting the one-man advantage.
Instead, against the run of play they produced a six-minute passage of play which produced 10 points to turn the match on its head with a 13-10 lead. First Sánchez landed a penalty and then outside centre Matias Orlando darted in for try after the visitors ran the Boks’ defence ragged. Sánchez’s kick from the touchline made for a 13-10 lead.
It took the Boks some to recover after defending this spell of enterprising play by the visitors and when they did their efforts was worth a try next to the posts but midfielder Lionel Mapoe lost the ball in the in-goal area, a fraction ahead of dotting down.
The Boks had been just a fraction more creative going into the halftime break but they were forced to leave the field trailing by three points (13-10).
There was no shortage of attacking enterprise from Argentina when second-half play resumed and the Boks were forced to rely on counter-attacking opportunities to keep their fortunes alive.
Bryan Habana was despatched to the sin bin in the 48th minute after he was deemed guilty of dangerous play but the scoreline remained intact during his absence.
On either side of the hour mark, Jantjies and Sánchez were again on target with penalty attempts after a period in which handling mistakes rather than stout defence denied teams from crossing the whitewash (16-13).
The visitors seemed to be drawing inspiration from the Sánchez penalty which gave them the lead and there was more woe for the Boks when rightwing Santiago Cordero rounded off a pressure spell with his team second try in the 66th minute. Sánchez’ conversion opened a 23-13 lead.
There was a desperate fightback by the Boks in an effort to save the match and eventually they did more than that to clinch the match.
There were tries by Goosen and another at the death by eighthman Warren Whiteley. Jantjies converted both touchdowns and threw in a penalty as well as the Argentinians had no answer the Boks 17-point scoring spree in the closing stages.
Next week in the second round Argentina host South Africa at Estadio Martearena in Salta, Argentina.
Final Score South Africa 30 (10) Argentina 23 (13)
Tries -R. Combrinck, J.Goosen, W.Whiteley
Pen – E.Jantjies 3
Con – E.Jantjies 3
Cards – B.Habana (45th min yellow)
Tries -M.Orlando, S.Cordero
Pen – N.Sanchez 3
Con – N.Sanchez 2
Cards – M.Montero (21st min yellow)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Ref 1:Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant Ref 2:Ben O’Keeffe (New Zelaand)
TMO : George Ayoub (Australia)
15 Johan Goosen, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c) , Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Juan de Jongh, 23 Jesse Kriel
15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Orlando, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matías Alemanno, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Guido Petti, 20 Javier Ortega Desio, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Ramiro Moyano