Scrappy Boks hold on to beat Pumas, but performance raises more questions than answers

Scrappy Boks hold on to beat Pumas, but performance raises more questions than answers
Manie Libbok of the Springboks during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Emirates Airline Park on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

The Springboks ended their brief 2023 home campaign with a whimper as they managed to limp over the line to beat Argentina 22-21 with a performance that will furrow brows.

South Africa 22 (15) Argentina 21 (9)

There was no shortage of physicality and endeavour but the match was punctuated by errors and certainly didn’t follow the script the Boks must have planned in the build-up. Yet they won and won ugly. There is glory in that. 

Few fringe players did their World Cup chances any good, although flyhalf Manie Libbok must have booked his place – if it were in doubt before this game. Libbok scored 12 points and was one of the few players to catch the eye in a scrappy outing. 

But lock Marvin Orie and flank Marco van Staden, two men vying for those few places still in the balance, will not sleep easily. 

Losing scrumhalf Grant Williams within three seconds of the start of the match – knocked cold by fullback Juan Cruz Mallia who chased the kickoff – led to a lengthy delay. Williams unsurprisingly never returned to the field and the long delay sucked even more life from the contest. 

The anthems and the now ubiquitous introduction to minor dignitaries, along with the presentation of all South Africa’s previous World Cup winners, meant the scheduled 17:05 kickoff only happened at 17:10. 

Then Williams’ unfortunate injury led to another seven-minute delay. From the time players took to the Ellis Park pitch to the first real action of the game once play restarted, nearly 20 minutes had elapsed. From kickoff to the end, the match took more than two hours. 

Mallia made direct contact to Williams’ head when trying to effect a charge-down, but Irish referee Andrew Brace deemed no foul play. It was a fair call even though Williams suffered as a consequence. 

Faf de Klerk entered the contest in the first minute and had time to do almost a full Pilates class warm-up before he was asked to actually play. 

Eben Etzebeth of the Springboks during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Emirates Airline Park on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Lee Warren / Gallo Images)

Stuttering play 

The delays and staccato start to the game was a harbinger of things to come as the Boks never found any rhythm, although they were the better team in the first half once they settled down. But they never looked entirely comfortable. 

The home team made 179 tackles to the Pumas’ 94 and they only had 41% possession. 

First-half tries from Eben Etzebeth, who was a towering presence as usual, and the hard-working Damian de Allende were obvious highlights. However, the Boks could not subdue a Pumas side that doggedly made life difficult for the hosts. 

Wing Mateo Carreras and centre Lucio Cinti were impressive in making inroads throughout the game and, outside of the scrum, the Pumas pack more than held its own. 

The Boks deservedly led 15-9 on the break, but it was all Argentina after halftime and they will rue not securing their first ever win on the highveld. 

Malcolm Marx and Steven Kitshoff won crucial breakdown penalties when the Boks were metres from their line either of halftime while Santiago Carreras missed three kicks at goal. It was telling in the final analysis. 

Conversely, the Boks twice spilled the ball on the Pumas tryline. Jesse Kriel’s first-half charge down on Argentina’s tryline saw him knock-on as he attempted to regather the ball. Orie also knocked-on, on the Pumas tryline, as the Boks pounded the line. It was that kind of game. 

The only positive to take from it, from a South African perspective, was that they won, but it will take a much more polished effort against the same opposition in Argentina next week.

Damian de Allende of South Africa scores a try during The Rugby Championship match between South Africa and Argentina at Emirates Airline Park on 29 July 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Sydney Seshibedi / Gallo Images)

Two halves 

The Pumas took an early 6-0 lead thanks to two penalties from Santiago Carreras, to further compound the home team’s problems. Sloppy errors and ill-discipline led to three consecutive penalties against the Boks from the start. 

Once they’d managed to ride out that period of pressure the home team transferred it briefly to the Pumas, who racked up four penalties in succession themselves. 

Etzebeth’s try stemmed from one of those when he and Marx exchanged passes from a short lineout, following penalty to touch. The pair combined at the front, went down the tramlines and were stopped close. The ball was worked infield and then back to the trams, where Etzebeth rampaged over the line. 

De Allende’s try was from a rolling maul following another penalty. He had joined the rumble and timed his break from the maul beautifully, running over unfortunate scrumhalf Lautaro Bazan. 

It felt like the Boks might break free after halftime as they’d won the physical contest for most of the first half, but the opposite scenario unfolded. 

Halftime felt like it took longer than usual when the song Amabokoboko, aka Sister Bokkina, was performed by artist Mgarimbe. 

The anthem is based on Mgarimbe’s Sister Bethina – often dubbed as South Africa’s second national anthem – and given a Springbok makeover. 

Unfortunately, it did nothing to lift the Bok performance. The Pumas dominated the half but could make it count on the scoreboard. 

Santiago Carreras missed comfortable kicks at goal, failing to build pressure. The little ball the Boks had was kicked away as they reverted to their 2020 formula of kick/chase. It was perhaps a function of the loss of Williams and their best-laid plans, but it felt like a step backwards. 

The Boks absorbed pressure and eventually scored from deep when De Klerk turned the ball over and fed the supporting Libbok who had the pace to beat the cover. 

De Allende was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on in the 73rd minute and while he was off the Pumas scored twice. Tries from Mateo Carreras and Gonzalo Bertranou brought them within a whisker of history.

They ran out of time though as the Boks held on for a vital win, and an even more vital Rugby World Cup wake-up call. DM 


South Africa – Tries: Eben Etzebeth, Damian de Allende, Manie Libbok. Conversions: Libbok (2). Penalty: Libbok

Argentina – Tries: Mateo Carreras, Gonzalo Bertranou. Conversion: Santiago Carreras. Penalties: Santiago Carreras (3).


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    “Williams’ unfortunate injury”?? Rather a case of ‘premeditated thuggery’! The usual way Argentinian play. I’ve never seen them play a decent game EVER. They always play on or over the penalty line and are given too much freedom by useless refs. If it had been a Bok playing like that he would have been sent off for good.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    Sideshows, puerile attempts to mimic the Haka, micky mouse politicians scrambling for the limelight, a bizarre half time discombobulated performance (the faces of the crowd said it all), it was entirely predictable that the players would lose any impetus from their warm-up and battle to regain focus.
    By contrast the All-Blacks Wallabies game was simply a celebration of rugby. Anthems, the Haka, Wallabies symbolic unspoken acceptance of the challenge, and game on – no narcissistic pontificating!

    • Peter Wright says:

      Agree completely!
      There was nothing that made me think I should have been at the stadium rather than in my lounge.

    • Peter Holmes says:

      I have to agree. I have long been a follower of both Rugby Union, and Football (please, don’t use the word soccer). This game, and the antics which preceded it and were repeated at half time, has finally led me to decide that football is my favourite. PS: very nearly switched off the TV.

  • Johan Buys says:

    I really wanted to see the team play most of a game without Faf, with Williams at 9. We have enough very good wings : bring Cheslyn to Nr9 and watch the other teams’ defense strategies go up in flames or restructure so as to maybe we can have our centers and wings (yes those do exist, I promise) do their thing.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    The scariest part about the early Williams injury was that seemingly not one Bok made any effort to protect Williams; clearly an unhappy Boy camp which is not pulling together.

    Contrast this with any other international team and the way they block, support and protect the catcher.

  • John Whitehead says:

    Why for the 2nd time in a row was there no plan B ? The coaches and team leaders were once again outsmarted by superior preparation and execution of the Cheika game plan. And our coach will have us believe that it was a” positive” that SA in the 2nd half had a good defensive drill !!

  • Jan Malan says:

    The Springboks tried to play a game they are not familiar with. They even at one stage running from their own goal line which could have ended disastrous for them.
    They were brought down to earth. Do not underestimate the weaker sides will be the lesson they have learnt.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Have we ever been the favourites to win any World Cup? I don’t think so. And yet we have the best hit rate in the competition. Flashing a bit of brilliance against the Wallabies 3 weeks ago, we came crashing down to earth against the Kiwis and nearly did a Japan job after the build up to the game in the week. Can we really be holding something back? I doubt it very much. Players did not seem to pitch up as individuals (with some exceptions) and lacked the fire needed to win at this level. But we have a good squad and at this distance in just have to have faith in the system. Lose the half time song though please-it is embarrassingly bad. Its a rugby game, not a night club.

  • Darryl Harrisberg says:

    So disappointing- not what we expected from the best team in the world 😱

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