The Springboks were brought back to earth with a thud this weekend when they took on the Pumas in Mendoza and whilst it’s fair to admit that no one expected another one-sided affair it was the Argentinians who pitched up this weekend and not the Springboks who seemed to have forgotten all their gees at home as they offered up an unforgettable performance. I would not say that this was a step backwards for the South Africans as an away win was achieved for the first time since 2009, but rather a gut-wrenching reality check was realised by the management, players and their fans around the world. Perhaps the Springboks have not come as far as is to be believed.
The Argentina team was up for this one. Of that there is no doubt and it was Nick Mallet who alluded to a ‘Latin pride’ which would spur the home team on in front of their home crowd. Once they had scored the early try, the crowd was behind them and the Springboks began to feel the pressure. What was worrying was that we could not ingest the pressure as a unit, deal with it and play our game. For a team with the heritage, experience and pride such as the Springboks it was worrying to see us struggle as we did with such a hostile crowd and a question begs itself: Where were our leaders on the field? Where was Jean? Bryan? Jannie? Why were they not calming the boys down and reminding them to focus on doing the small things right?
The Argentinians play an interesting brand of rugby which is hard to classify and I can only label it as ‘spoiler rugby’. They go out on the field to get under your skin in the hope that you will lose focus on your game plan and thus allow them to boss you around. They niggle you until you react with the hope that you will lash out and give away a penalty or better yet a yellow card. Sure they have a powerful tight five and attacking wings, but against the likes of the three southern hemisphere heavy-weights they have no choice but to ply this tactic. What was worrying – and has been for a while – was that the Springboks fell into their trap and let it affect their play and one has to question whether the All Blacks would have lowered themselves to that level if they had been in the same position?
It is important to note at this point in time that the above mentioned issues were amplified by a poor outing by referee Steve Walsh. In no way am I placing blame on Mr. Walsh as the scoreline can be solely blamed on a lethargic performance by the visitors, however the Pumas were allowed to get away with a level of cynicism at stages with no form of warning or punishment dished out. The subsequent citings handed out to Argentinean players is testament to the level of play and perhaps the level of refereeing – or lack there of.
I feel that it is important for me to stress that this is not an attempt to be negative about the Springboks and only to be realistic. Whilst the performance this weekend was not up to scratch it was important to get an away win. The Springbok management will do everything in their power to soften the blow of what was an underachieving team, however this underperformance must be kept in context. Perhaps all of our victories this year should be kept in context. I agree that winning is important as it builds momentum, but what is momentum worth if you are gaining it against lesser teams? It is fair to say that this year we have come up against very weak opposition in Italy, Scotland, Samoa and Argentina and one has to question whether these teams are truly preparing us adequately for the Wallabies and All Blacks? Are these victories not hollow and will we find ourselves at the end of another horrible run of losses at the hands of the All Blacks and pesky Wallabies?
I suppose that only time will tell. At the moment it would be best for us to savour the current Rugby Championships log standings as the boys have done well to put themselves in that position. One more win on tour would stand us in good stead to win the competition if all goes according to plan in our final two home fixtures. It is also important to remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint and that we are building toward the RWC in 2015 and it is these sort of ugly wins which is needed in order to build character within a squad.