But South Africa coach Heneke Meyer, whose side inflicted that big 73-13 wound, had no doubts Argentina are where they should be after the Springboks narrowly escaped defeat to win 22-17 in Mendoza on Saturday.
“When (Argentina) play this way, it’s very difficult to get the ball and I’m not saying this as an excuse, they played very well and deserve to be in this kind of competition,” Meyer told reporters.
South Africa were scrappy but this was due in good part to Argentina making it very hard for them to play, unlike the previous clash.
Argentina were never behind after an early Juan Manuel Leguizamon try and led until eight minutes from time, however indiscipline allowed fly-half Morne Steyn to steal victory for South Africa with two penalties, taking his tally to 17 points.
The Pumas set about recovering their identity as a team that has an iron defence and never-say-die attitude in the short week between the two tests.
“We changed the way we went into the match, fundamentally in our minds. And we accompanied that with a good game since we had a lot of moments in their half and scored points,” coach Santiago Phelan said.
“We don’t talk about winning or losing but of the way we can play and end a match with our heads held high. Today I think we saw a solid team and the way we lost gives us confidence to be able to work and grow as a team,” added captain Felipe Contepomi.
The first Argentine try caught South Africa cold and although the Springboks hit back through wing Bjorn Basson, the Pumas’ strong first-half momentum kept them going forward.
Their best attack took them through several phases until a darting run in the middle by wing Gonzalo Camacho brought them close to the line and scrumhalf Martin Landajo fed centre Marcelo Bosch who crashed through the defence to touch down.
DRY SECOND HALF
With Contepomi´s second conversion and a penalty reply by Styen, Argentina led 17-13 at the interval, but that is where their scoring stopped. Like last year’s 16-16 draw in Mendoza, South Africa had a more disciplined staying power to come back into the match.
“This is a team with a lot of pride, our captain tells us over and over that this group (of players) cannot be broken. Sadly, last Saturday we were broken and that hadn’t happened in recent years and it was a terrible coming down to earth,” said Bosch.
“(But) we all contributed from Monday to change our image, luckily it worked out and we’re proud of what we gave today,”
Argentina recovered some of their renowned scrummaging power, with loosehead prop Marcos Ayerza, who missed the Soweto match through injury, saying: “Our scrum was good, maybe we didn’t get all we should have (from it) but I think we were solid and a constant source for attack.”
Fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, another player who came into the team on Saturday for the injured Juan Martin Hernandez, said Argentina must learn to maintain their discipline for the 80 minutes if they want to win such matches.
“In the last 10 minutes we had two balls in their 22 and we had to retreat with a penalty against us. It’s very hard for us to get to the last metres and when we do we must score,” he said.
However, the Pumas will feel they are themselves again when they play New Zealand and Australia away in their two matches next month.
(Editing by Mark Pangallo)