The Springboks opened their Rugby Championship account with a 34-21 come-from-behind victory over Argentina at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
The Boks have not lost consecutive matches on home soil since a three-match losing run between 2015 and 2016. And after that 25-10 defeat to England in the final Test of the June internationals, they looked as if they just might repeat the feat when trailing 14-10 at the interval after a scrappy first-half performance.
However, Rassie Erasmus’ men clicked into gear in the second-half, scoring 17 unanswered points to complete a thrilling comeback and continue their impressive record under their charismatic new mentor. The former Munster boss will be delighted with his wing duo and inexperienced centre pairing (playing together for the first time) as well as handing Damian Willemse and Marco van Staden their debuts.
The Springboks opened the scoring in the eighth minute when Lukhanyo Am powered his way over after superb interplay between backs and forwards, with Andre Esterhuizen, Frans Malherbe and Faf de Klerk instrumental in the build-up.
Argentina responded seven minutes later. A Nicolas Sanchez up and under was spilled by Willie le Roux as the visitors pounced on the loose ball. Possession was recycled and with the Bok defence scrambling that allowed Sanchez to run in under the posts and convert his own try for a 7-5 lead.
Soon afterwards, los Pumas had the lead. Bok captain Siya Kolisi found himself isolated after a mini break down the right flank, with the Argentine counter-ruck proving successful as wing Ramiro Moyano effected the turnover before running 20 metres and timing the final pass expertly for flank Pablo Matera to dot down for his fourth international try.
However, moments later and ten minutes before the interval, Le Roux saw the space on the outside and produced a pinpoint cross-field kick to find Aphiwe Dyantyi out on the left wing for his second try in a Bok jersey as the hosts to cut the deficit to four at 14-10 at the half-time break.
Two minutes after the resumption, Handre Pollard and Esterhuizen combined to make the mini-break to get the Springboks on the front foot before De Klerk’s kick over the top was gobbled up by Dyantyi, who produced a brilliant one-handed finish to grab his brace. Pollard made no mistake with the conversion this time to give the hosts a 17-14 lead.
The Springboks’ third came six minutes later. It came when Beast Mtawarira got under his opposite number at scrum-time and drove him backwards, thus winning the penalty for the home side. They were rewarded for going for the attacking line-out when De Klerk found Makazole Mapimpi with an over-the-top pass, the winger having all the time in the world to complete the finish.
Moments later, both Bok wings had doubles when Mapimpi finished off a flowing move from the home side that involved slick interplay between backs and forwards once again. Malcolm Marx made a particularly telling carry in the build-up to get his side over the advantage line. Pollard’s conversion made it a 27-14 lead after 53 minutes.
After Eben Etzebeth, who had an impressive return, made a bullocking run downfield, replacement debutant fly-half Willemse threw a wayward pass which eluded fellow debutant Van Staden, with Matias Moroni intercepting and crossing untouched under the posts. Sanchez converted to cut the deficit to six.
But with ten minutes to go, scrum-half De Klerk would put the game beyond doubt when he showed good presence of mind to snipe over after Steven Kitshoff was halted inches short. Pollard added the extras, which would prove to be the final points scored of the game, as the Boks ran out 34-21 winners.
For South Africa:
Tries: Am, Dyantyi 2, Mapimpi 2, De Klerk
Cons: Pollard 2
Tries: Sanchez, Matera, Moroni
Cons: Sanchez 3
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Makazole Mapimpi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Siya Kolisi (c), 6 Francois Louw, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Thomas du Toit, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marco van Staden, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Lionel Mapoe, 23 Damian Willemse
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Bautista Delguy, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Bautista Ezcurra, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Gonzalo Bertranou, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Diego Fortuny, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Tomas Lavanini, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Juan Cruz Mallia
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)