Los Pumas came so near to beating the Springboks in Jo’berg – AP/Themba Hadebe
By Gavin Mairs
A defeat for Argentina but a stunning performance against the Springboks at Ellis Park that will have raised significant alarm within the England camp.
Steve Borthwick’s side are due to open their Rugby World Cup campaign against Los Pumas at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille on September 9 for what is expected to be the defining game of Pool D.
And, having defeated Eddie Jones’s Australia in Sydney last week, Los Pumas came agonisingly close to what would have been an historic victory in Johannesburg.
If it were not for a number of missed penalties attempts in the second half, and a breakaway try, against the run of play, by Manie Libbok after Faf de Klerk had pounced on a loose ball deep inside his own half, Michael Cheika’s side would have been worthy victors.
Cheika worked a similar kind of magic when he took over as Australia head coach just a year before the 2015 World Cup and transformed the fortunes of the Wallabies to such an extent that they not only knocked out England from their own tournament but went on to reach the final where they lost to New Zealand.
Since his promotion to head coach of Argentina last summer, the side has beaten New Zealand in Christchurch, England at Twickenham (at the tail end of the Eddie Jones’ tenure last November), and almost shocked the Springboks in what was supposed to be an emotional World Cup send-off game as well as Jacques Nienaber’s last as head coach on home soil before his move to Leinster.
Borthwick and his coaching team will have taken note of Argentina’s capacity and ferocious ambition to take on the Springboks at their own strengths: underscored by the sight of Argentina scrummaging on the opponents’ five-metre line at the death, and the concession of a series of penalties by the Boks under the pressure.
Argentina also troubled the mighty Springbok line-out and were able to exert significant aerial pressure on the home back three with an intelligent kicking game.
Yet Cheika has also brought a sense of footballing prowess to the side, with Santiago Carreras able to vary the point of attack to keep the Springbok aggressive defensive line guessing.
Michael Cheika has made Argentina into a serious force since taking over the reins – AFP/Phill Magokoe
The second-half display was so dominant that the final match statistics revealed South Africa had been forced to make almost twice as many tackles as the visitors.
First-half tries by Eben Etzebeth, who was at his imperious best, and Damien de Allende had established a 15-9 lead for the Springboks, with Argentina keeping in touch through the boot of Carreas, who landed three penalties.
De Kerk was introduced from the bench after just 16 seconds when the unfortunate Grant Williams, on his first international start, was knocked unconscious from the kick-off when Juan Cruz Mallia collided into him as he attempted to charge down his clearance kick.
Mallia’s hip struck his head but referee Andrew Brace took no action against the full-back, saying the contact was unavoidable and that it was ‘a rugby incident’.
Argentina look like a fit side too, able to dominate possession and territory in the second half despite the high altitude and finished with a flourish of tries by Mateo Carreras and Gonzalo Bertranou.
Indeed it was a positive decision to kick to the corner instead of at goal 12 minutes from line that ultimately swung the game against them, when a complex attack broke down and de Klerk pounced on the loose ball and the scrum-half put Libbok in the clear.
Yet still Argentina rallied again and if Carreras had been able to convert the try by Mateo Carreras, the final score in injury time could have been a match-winning one. Either way, England have been warned.
Springboks just edge Pumas — as it happened
06:17 PM BST
Final score: South Africa 22 Argentina 21
Yes they can! A consolation prize for Argentina through Gonzalo Bertranou, who bursts around the side of the ruck to score.
The conversion is good and the final whistle is blown.
South Africa win 22-21.
06:15 PM BST
79 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 14
Argentina lay siege to the South Africa line, pushing them beyond 18 tackles.
Los Pumas make it over the line, but they are held up. Luckily, there is a penalty advantage, and Argentina choose to tap.
They dummy the pick-and-go before slinging the ball wide left, but de Kler is wise to it and nails his man in the tackle.
Again, Los Pumas have the ball on the five and carry hard. Can they find a gap in the South Africa line?
06:12 PM BST
79 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 14
Messy ball at the scrum: a re-set followed by a knock-on by de Klerk.
The siren sounds – this scrum will be Argentina’s final opportunity.
06:11 PM BST
79 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 14
Argentina take the 22-metre drop out quickly and push it out to the left, making a clean break down the wing.
South Africa corner flag to cut them off, and Argentina kick down the line. Was it a mistake? It looks as though it might have, as Kolbe wins the sprint to get back.
He is bundled back over his own line, and Los Pumas have a late scrum.
06:07 PM BST
76 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 14
Los Pumas hammer the South African defensive line but they are met by stolid and frankly monstrous defence from the Springboks.
Argentina eventually push the ball out wide to the right and pop it off the floor to Mateo Carreras, who dots down.
Santiago Carreras misses the two points though, so crucially the gap between the two teams remains beyond a converted try.
Mateo Carreras goes over for Argentina – AFP/Phill Magakoe
06:04 PM BST
73 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 9
Argentina must not be disheartened here if they are to remain in this contest.
But the game is beginning to break up, and it could yet play in their favour.
The ball ping-pongs back and forth before coming off Damian de Allende’s hand. The referee rules it a deliberate knock-one and South Africa are down to 14 men for the final eight minutes.
06:02 PM BST
69 min: South Africa 22 Argentina 9
Try South Africa!
Disaster for Argentina. The ball goes down, perhaps forced by the strong Springbok defence, and Faf de Klerk picks up.
The nippy no.9 looked like he might be caught, but luckily he had Manie Libbok outside him, who showed Los Pumas a clean pair of heels.
Libbok converts his own try, and the Springboks lead 22-9.
05:59 PM BST
68 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Scrum Argentina just outside the South Africa half.
Argentina win a penalty which they tellingly choose to kick to the corner rather than go for the three points.
05:56 PM BST
64 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Argentina have their lineout contested at the front but manage to squirm through on the left-hand short side.
They have the ball just inside the South Africa 10-metre line and are displaying some beautiful handling.
The ball goes down under pressure, but Argentina are penalised for sealing off.
South Africa choose to keep the penalty kick in-field and Argentina back-pedal to dive on it.
Luckily for Argentina, Lucio Cint is there to clear the ball 60 metres back down-field.
05:52 PM BST
61 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
A scrum penalty gives Carreras another chance at three points but the fly half kicks wide again.
The missed opportunities are starting to add up here for Argentina.
Santiago Carreras miss-kicks begin to add up – AFP/Phil Magoke
05:49 PM BST
60 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Argentina lose the ball forward in contact with Kwagga Smith and South Africa have a chance to clear their lines.
05:48 PM BST
59 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Argentina play under advantage and dance around the South Africa 22, shipping the ball first left and the right.
Los Pumas are eventually given the penalty – which was for de Klerk not rolling away – and show real intent by kicking for the corner.
05:45 PM BST
56 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Another high bomb from de Klerk is fielded by Argentina through.
But when Argentina kick back, a brilliant basket ball from Snyman releases Malcolm Marx who goes on the charge.
Lukhanyo Am, who has just come on, is knocked into touch after a chop tackle from the Argentina defender sent him flying into the air.
South Africa are penalised off the lineout for hitting the jumper in the air and Argentina kick up field for another lineout – this time on the South Africa 22-metre line.
05:42 PM BST
53 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
South Africa continue to hang the ball high in the air for their chasers, but so far Los Pumas have been smart to it.
Argentina have their best chance so far here with some neat offloading bringing them to the South African line on the left-hand side.
Gonzales lunges for the line but is ruled to be short. Argentina try for another time, but once again, Stephen Kitshoff latches onto the ball to win another penalty turnover.
This must be the second or third time he has saved his team with a key turnover.
Argentina will have to capitalise on one of these opportunities soon if they are to remain in the game.
05:38 PM BST
51 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Faf de Klerk sends a high box kick up into the Argentina 22 but Carreras keeps his cool to call the mark.
His clearance is nearly charged down by Etzebeth, who touched the ball, giving Argentina a line-out thirty metres from their own line.
05:36 PM BST
48 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Despite being just shy of half-way, the 25-year-old has no trouble with the distance but strikes just wide.
The score remains South Africa 15 Argentina 9.
05:35 PM BST
45 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Argentina penalty. Stephen Kitshoff is pinged for sealing off as he rucked over Malcolm Marx.
Carreras is three from three off the kicking tee so far today. Can he make it four from four?
05:33 PM BST
Substitution South Africa
RG Snyman comes on for Marvin Orie in the second-row.
05:33 PM BST
45 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Los Pumas win their own scrum this time and box kick to touch on the 10-metre line.
05:31 PM BST
45 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
South Africa are awarded a penalty at the scrum which Faf de Klerk takes quickly.
The Springboks look to recycle but are smashed back by Argentina, who force the knock-on.
Los Pumas must now weather another scrum on their own line.
05:29 PM BST
43 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Huge cheers from Argentina who smother South Africa’s lineout play and win the penalty.
Los Pumas cleverly force South Africa to throw to the front and then hit it hard. Clearly it’s a tactic they have discussed at half-time.
It feels like the tension has ramped up a notch in this second half.
05:28 PM BST
41 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Argentina captain Montoya is penalised for a tackle off the ball and Libbok kicks for the corner.
South Africa are hunting for an early try in this second half.
05:27 PM BST
40 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
The second half is underway and the Springboks take their own kick-off, giving them an early attacking opportunity on the Argentina 22-metre line.
05:26 PM BST
Eben Etzebeth came alive in the first half, making more metres than any other player and earning his team a try in the process.
Eben Etzebeth – AFP/Wikus de Wet
Malcolm Marx, too, has played his part, making several key steals to stymie Argentina’s attacking opportunities.
The Springboks have shown variation with the ball in hand, and their decision to cross-kick from deep – which one suspects they may have borrowed from New Zealand – could well yield results in the second half.
They have also been the dominant side in the scrum and lineout, providing them with a stable platform from which to play.
Argentina, meanwhile, have continued to batter the South African defensive line, constantly searching for a gap.
They may have been guilty of forcing their play at times with a few silly offloads, but if they can quicken their ruck speed to get outside the Springbok rush defence, there could be opportunities for their flying backline players in this second half.
05:13 PM BST
Half-time score: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
The half-time hooter goes as Faf de Klerk feeds into the scrum.
The scrum-half plays blind and the South Africans tear down the left flank, popping the ball to Kurt-Lee Arendse.
The flying winger touches down, but the line judge calls play back. A last-ditch effort from the flailing Argentine winger clearly pushes the South African into touch.
The teams go into the half-time tunnel with the scores at South Africa 15 Argentina 9.
05:09 PM BST
38 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Another ugly-looking head injury here with just minutes to go until the end of the first half, this time for Lucas Paulos.
The Argentine second row got his head on the wrong side tackling Vermeulen and copped one from the South African’s knee.
The medics again take their time removing the player from the field.
Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that this is the last head knock we see in this test match.
Duane Vermeulen carries – AFP/Phill Magakoe
05:00 PM BST
37 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 9
Carreras kicks over the penalty. That’s three out of three for the fly-half.
05:00 PM BST
37 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 6
South Africa thought about clearing up field, but Faff de Klerk spotted a gap around the base of the ruck on his own 22 and burst through.
South Africa are pinged though for playing the ball on the floor at halfway.
Argentina opt for another shy at goal.
04:58 PM BST
36 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 6
Argentina have a penalty but their captain Julian Montoya is told he must go off to receive treatment as blood pours from his head.
The hooker has already had to replace one jersey. Let’s hope he has a third one in the locker room.
Argentina kick to the corner but lose the ball forward from the lineout.
04:56 PM BST
31 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 6
South Africa are probing the Argentina defence with a varied kicking game.
After testing them earlier with some chips in midfield, they dribble one across to Kolbe but it ends up in touch.
With the next phase of play Libbok looks to release Vermeulen with a cross kick – a fearsome prospect – but he is ruled to have his foot in touch.
A clear tactical decision here from the Springboks to stretch this Argentina defence.
04:53 PM BST
31 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 6
Another exit mistake, this time from South Africa.
Argentina hammer the Springbok defence, but Steven Kitshoff, taking over from Malcolm Marx, gets over the ball to force the penalty.
South Africa kick to touch.
04:50 PM BST
26 min: South Africa 15 Argentina 6
Try South Africa!
Another five-metre lineout for South Africa, and they come away with points once again.
The Springboks controlled the maul expertly, bringing in reinforcements from the backline as needed.
Argentina did all they could to stop the South African juggernaut, but it was not enough. Damian de Allende saw a slither of a gap down the short-side and he broke away to score.
Libbok slots the extra two points.
South Africa lead 15-6.
Damian de Allende dives for the line – Getty Images/Sydney Seshibedi
04:46 PM BST
24 min: South Africa 8 Argentina 6
A key penalty turnover from Malcolm Marx, doing what he does best.
Argentina had busted the South Africa defensive line for the first time and were in a dangerous position on the right flank.
South Africa clear to half way before winning a penalty themselves for a collapsed maul.
04:44 PM BST
22 min: South Africa 8 Argentina 6
With the ball in midfield, Argentina crash into the South Africa line but there is no way through just yet.
After a high bomb from Los Pumas, Libbok kicks long but the ball is judged to have been carried back into the South Africa 22.
A frustrating mistake for the Springbok 10 gives Argentina an opportunity.
04:41 PM BST
20 min: South Africa 8 Argentina 6
Try South Africa!
Cute interplay between Etezebeth and Marx at the front of the lineout gives South Africa a chance.
A flat ball is then sent back to Etzebeth on the blindside who crashes through Argentina winger Juan Imhoff to dot down in the right-hand corner.
Libbok cannot add the extras, but South Africa lead 8-6.
Eben Etzebeth scores – Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko
04:38 PM BST
16 min: South Africa 3 Argentina 6
A free-kick is given against Steven Kitsoff for pushing before the ball is in.
Argentina send it high and the Springboks carry on half way.
Again, Argentina are off-side and the Springboks get a penalty which they kick for touch.
The penalty count is mounting here for Los Pumas.
04:36 PM BST
15 min: South Africa 3 Argentina 6
After an Argentina penalty, the Springboks have it on half way and box kick deep into the Argetina 22.
Carreras calls for the mark and kicks back, and the Springboks have it on halfway again.
But a knock-on from South African prop Frans Malherbe sets up the first scrum of the game.
04:33 PM BST
11 min: South Africa 3 Argentina 6
Another shaky exit-play from Argentina as Juan Imhoff throws a wild offload and South Africa are gifted an opportunity to get points back.
South Africa fly-half Manie Libbok kicks over from right in front.
04:30 PM BST
10 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 6
Carreras makes no mistake with his second effort, this one from the left-hand touchline.
Los Pumas go 6-0 ahead!
04:29 PM BST
10 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 3
Argentina play off the top of the lineout and hit the centre channel in the midfield.
Malcolm Marx latches onto the ball but Kurt-Lee Arendse is peanlised for not rolling away. Los Pumas have a penalty in a promising position here.
Argentina lineout – AFP/Phill Magakoe
04:28 PM BST
8 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 3
South Africa are playing an extremely aggressive defensive line here, getting right up in the faces of los Pumas and hoping to force the mistake.
Argentina eventually kick, and the Boks clear back up to the 10m line.
04:25 PM BST
6 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 3
The two sides trade kicks before Willie le Roux punts to halfway for an Argentina lineout.
04:24 PM BST
5 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 3
Argentina’s turn now to come under pressure from a charge down.
Jesse Kriel does exceptionally well to get to the ball, but it just gets away from him as it rebounds, and he knocks on.
Argentina clear through a goal line drop-out, but South Africa run it right back through Vermeulen.
04:22 PM BST
3 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 3
Santiago Carreras makes no mistake with his first kick at goal. Argentina lead 3-0.
04:21 PM BST
2 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 0
Argentina had an advantage and tap quickly, peppering the South African line early. They are then awarded another penalty advantage for South Africa being off-side.
No advantage, and the ball is called back for a penalty. Argentina call for a shot at goal.
04:17 PM BST
1 min: South Africa 0 Argentina 0
And we’re off! Santiago Carreras gets us underway, but there is an early charge down with Juan Cruz Mallía flying into Grant Williams with a charging down.
The Argentine’s hip crashes into the South African’s head, but the decision by referee Andrew Brace is that Mallia was already committed, and foul play is ruled out.
The medics take their time carrying Williams off the pitch, and Faff de Klerk replaces him with only a minute played. We can only hope the knock to Williams is not too serious. Terrible luck for him in his first test start.
03:43 PM BST
Duane Vermeulen’s last home game for the Springboks
Captain Duane Vermeulen hopes his side can channel their emotions in what could be his final game on home soil in a Springbok jersey.
Vermeulen earns his 68th Test cap – and his fourth as captain – in today’s clash but has indicated he may decide to hang up his boots following the Rugby World Cup.
“As a team, we spoke about the fact that it’s probably my last game in the Springboks jersey in SA, and it will also be the last for two of our coaches,” Vermeulen told reporters. “It may be a bit emotional, but the important thing for me will be to channel that emotion into leading the team well.
“It’s also our last game on home soil before the Rugby World Cup, and we want to finish on a high note.
“If we play well and get a good result, it would be even more special.”
Veteran no.8 Duane Vermeulen has said today may be his final game for the Springboks on home soil – AP/Rui Vieira
In another landmark achievement, Eben Etzebeth will today surpass former Springbok captain and hooker John Smit’s 111 Test caps, making him the fourth most capped Springbok.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Marx needs one try to equal Schalk Burger’s record of 16 Test tries, the most by a Springbok forward.
With South Africa yet to settle on a fixed starting line-up, there are still opportunities for players to stake their claim for a place in Nienbar’s 33-man World Cup squad – due to be announced on 8 August.
“The World Cup squad has not been named yet, so this will be an opportunity for every player in the squad to try to cement a place in the group,” Vermeulen added.
“As players, it is vital that we use every opportunity we get, and if we deliver quality performances, it will allow us to play the way we want to play against Argentina.”
03:32 PM BST
Argentina’s physical threat
South Africa come into the match as favourites, but will be looking to bounce back following a disappointing loss at the hands of New Zealand.
Argentina meanwhile will be riding high after claiming the scalp of Australia last week. Los Pumas are also well versed in causing an upset at The Rugby Championship, having triumphed over New Zealand in an historic last season.
They enter today looking for their second victory on South African soil in 34 test matches played between the two countries.
Addressing morale in the Springbok camp, head coach Jacque Nienbar said: “Obviously the result in New Zealand was bitterly disappointing, but we came into the season with a plan that will hopefully allow us to select the best possible squad for the World Cup and peak at the right time.”
Nienaber said the team was resolute about ending the Rugby Championship on a high note. He warned, however, that his side must be ready to meet with a physical onslaught from Los Pumas.
“The Pumas showed in their last two games that they can be a force to be reckoned with, so we have to be sharp from the get-go, be accurate in our execution on attack and defence, and use the opportunities we create,” said Nienaber. “They pride themselves on their set pieces, they are very dangerous at exploiting your mistakes, and they never stop fighting which makes them a challenging opponent.
“But that said, we know where we went wrong in our last match, and we are determined to correct the wrongs from that day and get our season back on track.
“We are anticipating a hard-fought battle and we know we need to be focused for the full 80 minutes, but we are ready to go out there and give everything.”
Springbok captain Duane Vermeulen also underscored the physical challenge posed by Argentina’s forward pack.
“We definitely can’t sit back and rest on our laurels,” the veteran back-rower said. “Argentina are a physical side, and they can play a complete game. They have strong forwards, skilful backs, and a massive work rate. They also don’t stand back.
“As forwards, we need to step up because we want to give Grant [Williams] and Manie [Libbok] the platform to have a good game.
“We didn’t do that for Faf [de Klerk] against New Zealand, and we’ve been working hard to ensure that we get things right this week.”
03:06 PM BST
South Africa: Willie le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Manie Libbok, Grant Williams, Duane Vermeulen (captain), Pieter-Steph du Toit, Marco van Staden, Marvin Orie, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe, Malcolm Marx, Steven Kitshoff
Bench: Bongi Mbonambi, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Kwagga Smith, RG Snyman, Faf de Klerk, Lukhanyo Am, Damian Willemse.
Argentina: Juan Cruz Mallia, Mateo Carreras, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Chocobares, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Carreras, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Santiago Grondona, Pablo Matera, Tomas Lavanini, Lucas Paulos, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Julian Montoya (captain), Thomas Gallo
Bench: Augustin Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Eduardo Bello, Lucas Paulos, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Nicolas Sanchez, Matias Moroni.
03:00 PM BST
Preview: both sides will have one eye on the World Cup
Hello and welcome to The Telegraph’s coverage of South Africa v Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
With New Zealand already crowned victors of this year’s competition following their comprehensive victory over Australia earlier today, both sides enter today’s clash with one eye on the World Cup which kicks of on 8 September.
The Springboks have made nine changes to their starting XV that lost 35-20 to New Zealand in Aukland two weeks ago.
Scrum-half Grant Williams makes his first start, forming a new half-back pairing with fly-half Manie Libbok.
With skipper Siya Kolisi still recovering from knee surgery, veteran no.8 Duane Vermeulen reprises his role as captain, taking over from the captain against New Zealand Eben Etzebeth.
Vermeulen joins flankers Pieter-Steph du Toit and Marco van Staden to recreate the Springbok back-row from the opening match of the competition against the Wallabies.
The other changes to the pack are at hooker, where Malcolm Marx starts for the first time this season – taking over from Bongi Mbonambi – and lock, where Marvin Orie comes in for Lood de Jager.
Meanhile, in the backline, wing Kurt-Lee Arendse – who scored a hat-trick against Australia – starts in place of Makazole Mapimpi, while experienced centre Jesse Kriel makes his first appearance of the season in the midfield alongside vice-captain Damian de Allende.
Bok coach Jacques Nienaber says it is all about managing minutes.
“Our challenge is to spread that load between the squad,” Nienaber told reporters. “We don’t want to go cold into Scotland in that first game at the World Cup with one or two guys having most of the minutes.
“If you pick up an injury or two, you are bringing in a guy that is cold. That is the balance that we would like to have.”
Argentina coach Michael Cheika has also shuffled his backline, making four changes to the side who beat Australia 34-31 in Sydney, with a further forced change at lock due to an injury for Matias Alemanno.
Centre Santiago Chocobares starts his first test since 2021 and Juan Cruz Mallia gets a first run at fullback this year as Argentina seek a maiden win at Ellis Park.
“Mallía, Chocobares and Juan Imhoff played in the final stages of the [French] Top 14 and that’s why they had a break,” Cheika said. “But it is the right time to give them a chance, along with [prop] Joel Sclavi, who is a replacement.”
The teams will meet again in a World Cup warm-up game in Buenos Aires on Aug 5.
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