Morne Steyn spoiled Argentina’s southern hemisphere debut and answered his own critics to lead South Africa to a 27-6 win over the Pumas in the Rugby Championship on Saturday.
Steyn marked the match in which he became the Springboks’ most capped flyhalf with a dominant display from No. 10 to back up tries by fullback Zane Kirchner, flanker Marcell Coetzee and wing Bryan Habana.
On his 38th test – and 27th in a row – Steyn was perfect in front of goal and created two of the Boks’ three tries at Newlands to steal the show on Argentina’s long-awaited introduction to the tournament.
“From the first one (kick) there in front of the poles, I thought that tonight is the night,” Steyn said. “Luckily all went well and all went over.”
Argentina, ranked No 8 in the world, held its own in the forward battle and also defended strongly to keep the No 3-ranked home team to just seven points in the second half.
But a combination of errors and missed opportunities – and South Africa’s overall strength – ensured the South Americans didn’t get close to an upset in the first of six matches this season against the top three teams in the world.
“I think it was a good first step,” Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe said. “We realise how intense it is in this type of rugby. We can take a lot of positives from this game, but it was very intense. We are going to improve and that’s our main goal.”
Steyn kicked five from five for his 12 points and provided the final pass for Kirchner’s try in the first half and a pinpoint crosskick for Habana to score in the second.
In between, Coetzee scrambled over from the back of a maul for his first test try and Steyn banged over the conversion from the touchline for a 20-3 lead for South Africa after half an hour.
A former World Cup semi-finalist, Argentina’s forwards mauled South Africa’s big pack backward a number of times and also held out against the surging Boks in the final 20 minutes.
But two first-half penalties from flyhalf Juan Martin Hernandez, who was playing his first test in three years, was eventually all the resilient Pumas could muster.
South Africa maintained its perfect record against Argentina, with a 14th win in 14 tests dating back to 1993.
“We need to improve a few things, but the attitude … they gave 100 percent,” coach Pumas Santiago Phelan said. “Our first goal is to grow up in our rugby. To improve by playing the best teams in the world.”
Overtaking Butch James’ 37 test appearances, Steyn played in Kirchner in the left corner in the 17th minute after Argentina fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino’s glaring fumble near his own line.
Coetzee crashed over in the opposite corner in the 28th as South Africa pushed out to a 20-6 halftime lead.
Argentina rallied early in the second, with Lobbe leading by example. But Hernandez and center Marcelo Bosch combined to miss three makeable penalty attempts in a four-minute spell in the opening minutes of the half, and the visitors rarely had a scoring chance after that.
To seal it, Steyn sent his cross-kick looping to the right corner in the 57th minute where Habana – wearing the unfamiliar No. 14 jersey – won the ball in the air and touched down for South Africa’s final try.
It ended any thoughts of an Argentinian fightback and gave new Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer a winning start to his first southern hemisphere championship. Meyer has now won three of his four games in charge with one draw against England.
But Argentina also won praise for a gallant debut and a stubborn defensive effort in the second half which denied two-time world champion South Africa a four-try bonus point.
“I’m probably a very difficult coach to please, but happy with the win,” Meyer said. “They (Argentina) brought a lot of passion. I would have liked to have got four tries but this is test match rugby. We need to give them respect and I think they will do well. I thought they really played well.”
South Africa 27 (Zane Kirchner, Marcell Coetzee, Bryan Habana tries; Morne Steyn 3 conversions, 2 penalties) def. Argentina 6 (Juan Martin Hernandez 2 penalties). HT: 20-6.