Their superior physicality and set pieces helped the Springboks defeat Los Pumas in both teams opening Rugby Championship games in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
South Africa 37 Argentina 15
South Africa – Tries: Courtnall Skosan, Raymond Rhule, Siya Kolisi and Pieter-Steph du Toit; Conversions: Elton Jantjies 4; Penalties: Elton Jantjies 3
Argentina – Tries: Martin Landajo and Emiliano Boffelli; Conversion: Juan Martin Hernandez; Penalty: Nicholas Sanchez
There was much talk in the lead up to this game, with many unanswered questions being the topic of discussion. Had the Springboks really turned a corner by beating France 3 Tests to nil in June? Is Coenie Oosthuizen a Test quality tighthead prop? Can Elton Jantjies overcome the jitters of the Super Rugby final? Would there be any significant improvement in the team as a whole?
At face value the answer to all three questions would be yes, but far sterner tests lie in wait for this rejuvenated Springbok squad. We take a look at a few talking points coming out of this Test.
Springboks Defeat Los Pumas in Port Elizabeth
Defensively the Springboks are looking a lot more organized, even more so than against the French. It was noticeable how hard the defensive line worked to stay in contact with each other. There also appears to be a lot more trust between players now, which is critical in ensuring that players don’t shoot out of alignment in panic.
Raymond Ruhle has been the subject of many a discussion during 2017. There is no doubting his attacking abilities, but his defense has generally been weak. The Springboks back three was not tested as much as it could have been, with the Pumas handling been very poor. Many promising attacks ended in conceding possession due to handling errors.
The Springboks lost an early lineout, but aside from that one loss they could rely on on this facet of play throughout the game. It was their scrum though that was particularly pleasing.
Aside from the decent shift he put in around the park, the standout performer and Man of the Match was Coenie Oosthuizen.
Without using one game as a yard stick, Oosthuizen surprised many with his ability to anchor the Springboks scrum against the much praised Pumas scrum. The Springbok scrum was far superior to that of the Pumas and promises to be a strength going forward.
The Springboks still have a lot of work to do on attack. Teams will continue to attack Elton Jantjies on his outside shoulder, trying to cut him off from his outside backs. One of the ploys the Springboks used to negate this was to have Jantjies standing back in the second line of receivers, with a forward–mostly Eben Etzebeth–acting as first receiver. This was fair enough against the Pumas, but only papers over the cracks.
Jantjies can obviously play at this level, but he, as well as the Springboks as a whole, need to learn how to negate a rushed defense in first phase play.
The Springboks Loose Trio Mix
The balance of the loose trio does remain a concern, even taking into the account the injury to Warren Whiteley. Jaco Kriel is a traditional ‘towards the ball’ open-side flank. Siya Kolisi usually fills the more linking open-side role. Usair Cassim, who played at number 8, usually plays a mixed role of of linking and attacking the ruck for the Cheetahs. So, is the Springboks loose trio mix working?
The Springboks really missed the ball carrying blind side flanker they have traditionally used to dent the defensive line. Jean-Luc du Preez showed glimpses of this when he came on as a substitute, and hopefully he will be given the opportunity to prove his worth in this role later in the competition.
Has there been a significant improvement in the Springboks? There definitely has been. They are not world beaters at this stage and would struggle to overcome either of New Zealand or England right now. What they have shown is a lot more appetite for a fight and a much improved team culture and spirit.
It will still take a long time for the South African public to forget the abomination that was the 2016 Springbok season, but at least ‘the process of moving the national team forward’ is now visible, and understandable.
In the other Rugby Championship match, New Zealand defeated Australia 34-54, in Sydney.
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