Argentina's entry into the Rugby Championship was perceived by many as just reward for over a decade of tireless campaigning off the field and sizeable success on it. Legendary Pumas such as Agustin Pichot, Felipe Contepomi and Hugo Porta had laid the foundations, but it was the current generation who were given the task of doing their heroes justice.
Santiago Phelan's men in truth perhaps didn't play to their potential in Cape Town, but most pragmatists prior to the tournament believed that Argentina's best chance to overturn one of the SANZAR powerhouses would come in the final week of the competition anyway, facing Australia at home in Rosario. The logic behind that assumption seems all the more sound now, after the 27-6 loss suffered in week one.
The score line was emphatic enough to suggest that there is still some daylight between Argentina and the level of performance which they wish to attain. The Springboks didn't get it all their own way though.Their failure to gain a bonus point by scoring four tries for instance, may prove costly come the end of the competition. Especially when considering the ruthlessness displayed by the All Blacks earlier in the day in denying the Wallabies a losing bonus point at the death.
One suspects that Steve Hansen's All Blacks should have the attacking quality at their disposal to achieve bonus points at home and on the road against the Pumas (although one must remember that they only scored 2 tries in last year's RWC quarter final victory over the same opponent).
The Pumas seemed to struggle at times with the intensity, speed and physicality of the Springboks. Alvaro Galindo (openside flanker), for example had to be substituted early by Santiago Phelan in response to the difficulties endured at the breakdown.It wasn't a total surprise. Although many of the squad play in Europe, general fitness had been a concern voiced by many pundits prior to the opening game.
|Argentina coach, Santiago Phelan, has a lot of work to do to close the gap.|
Rugby in the southern hemisphere is more aerobically challenging than north of the equator and when you consider variations in law interpretations too, Argentina were always going to have some significant hurdles to overcome.
Referee's are of course supposed to be impartial, but I wouldn't be surprised if subconsciously at least, Steve Walsh was trying to keep all 15 Pumas on the pitch, considering the nature of the occasion. No one wanted to see a mauling, which could have occurred had players entered the sin bin. At one point, Walsh seemed visibly exasperated by the lack of flow, which could only be attributed to the Pumas causing unlawful mishap on the ground. That area of the game did improve as time went on though.
I wouldn't say the Pumas were a different beast in the second half, but certainly they were more accurate and a couple of players in particular can take some pleasure from their performance.
|Camacho was bright on the wing for the Pumas, outshining Lwazi Mvovo.|
Gonzalo Camacho for example, who normally plies his trade at Sandy Park with the Exeter Chiefs, took to the Rugby Championship with aplomb. He entered the attack with speed and verve from the wing and was a real handful for South Africa to deal with. He diffused a couple of tricky situations in defence too. Arguably with Bryan Habana, he was the top outside back on show in Cape Town.
The Pumas didn't enjoy the kind of dominance which they can sometimes be used to in the scrum against South Africa, with young Juan Figallo, their tight head prop penalised on multiple occasions for early hits on Tendai Mtwarrira, but their line-out it must be said functioned superbly. That is to be commended when one considers it's usually a real area of strength for South Africa. Not many gain parity with the likes of Stormers duo Eben Etzebeth and Andries Bekker.
Captain and number eight, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, led by example in that area, securing the ball in the air, while hooker Eusebio Guinazu was accurate throwing in from the side lines. The maul was used to good effect as a result too in the second half, gaining penalties which were unconverted by Juan Martin Hernandez.
For Argentina and Santiago Phelan, the day may not have gone quite to plan or lived up to the massive expectations of the visiting Pumas fans (who travelled in force), but the fairy tale doesn't end here. In just one week, Argentina will host the Boks in Mendoza, seeking redemption for their loss today. What an occasion that will be. The stadium is going to be bouncing. I can feel the goosebumps already.