Durban — Let’s be fair to the Springboks, the 39 points they needed to win the Rugby Championship was always going to be a big ask against a seriously tough Pumas team, and they should be praised for giving it one heck of a lash at a heaving Hollywoodbets Kings Park, ultimately winning 38-21.
The Championship title yet again goes to the All Blacks and when the Boks do their wash-up on this campaign, they will know that it was at Ellis Park that they really lost it and the Kiwis won it.
The Boks had such a golden opportunity to put away a vulnerable All Blacks team that had been crushed a week before in Nelspruit but the coaching staff got their selections wrong and the team that did take the field did not do so with the required intensity.
And on the last day of the 2022 Championship, the Wallabies folded as expected at Eden Park and that meant the Boks had to embark on a Mission Impossible.
Also, it was evident from the first whistle that the resolute Pumas were in full-on party pooper mode and it took the Boks ten minutes before they got near the Argentine line, only for Eben Etzebeth to be denied a try because of obstruction in the maul.
It did not help the Springbok cause that stand-in flyhalf Frans Steyn did not have the best opening quarter — he appeared to be in slow motion and either overcooked his kicks or had them charged down, and after a series of blunders Willie le Roux stepped up to take the kicks.
A golden window of opportunity for the Boks came in the 16th minute when Pumas flank Marcos Kremer was yellow-carded and it was from an advancing scrum near their line that No 8 Jasper Wiese had the easiest of dot downs.
The South African pressure kept mounting and just as Kremer returned from the sin bin, fellow flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez took his place.
Once more the Boks made that advantage count when skipper Siya Kolisi scored off a lineout maul.
Three minutes before half-time, Steyn redeemed himself when he banged over a penalty from inside his own half and at 17-0 the Boks were on track, only for Pumas scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou to dart over for a try after a Springbok lineout failed, and that score on the half-time whistle was a fatal blow.
It meant a 17-7 half time lead for the Boks and a tally of 29 points was outstanding, and when Gonzalez scored just after half-time, the South African priority switched to survival at 17-14.
A penalty try after the Pumas collapsed a maul gave the Boks hope at 24-14 but when Etzebeth was harshly yellow-carded in the 60th minute for an alleged infringement in an aerial collision, the game was up.
It was just about all over when Faf de Klerk joined Etzebeth in the bid for a side entry at a maul, and when Pumas centre Matias Moroni went over unmarked, the Boks were hanging on for survival at 24-21.
That comfort for the 48 000 sell-out crowd was secured when the Pumas conceded another penalty try as time wasted away, and then as the final hooter went, Kurt-Lee Arendse finished off the Boks’ best move of the day.
Springboks 38 — Tries: Jasper Wiese, Siya Kolisi, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Penalty Tries (2). Conversions: Frans Steyn (3). Penalty: Steyn
Pumas 21 — Tries: Gonzalo Bertranou, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Matias Moroni. Conversions: Emiliano Boffelli.