:First half tries by scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and wing Aphelele Fassi led a much-changed South Africa to a scrappy 32-12 bonus-point victory over Argentina on their return to the Rugby Championship in Nelson Mandela Bay on Saturday.
The Springboks rested the majority of the side that beat the British & Irish Lions in their recent series, but continued with their territorial kicking style of play that put the South Americans under immense pressure with the high ball.
Replacement scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse scored a late try on debut and flyhalf Elton Jantjies kicked 17 points for the home side, while opposite number Nicholas Sanchez scored all the visitors’ points with four penalties.
The two sides will meet again at the same venue next Saturday before they both head off for the Australasian leg of the competition. The Boks missed the 2020 Rugby Championship due to concerns over player welfare in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Boks made 10 changes to their side from the last Lions test and while they showed the same defensive proficiency, having conceded only two tries in five tests since the 2019 World Cup, there was also little cohesion on attack.
Argentina have only been together in South Africa for just a week and showed plenty of endeavour and willingness to attack, but lacked the sharpness to execute against the well-organised hosts.
"We worked hard, but it was tough today," Bok captain Siya Kolisi said. "This challenge was different to what we faced against the Lions.
"It was a little bit more physical, Argentina give you challenges at the breakdown and are street-smart in general play. It was all about who could execute better.
"But we have been working hard as a squad and the guys who came in gave everything."
Jantjies landed an early penalty from the Boks’ first attack, before the home side bagged a first try with a breakaway try through Reinach against the run of play.
Argentina tried an elaborate backline move in the Bok half, but when the ball was spilled, the scrumhalf showed electric pace to beat the covering defence.
Jantjies is a very different flyhalf to the Boks’ regular number 10 Handre Pollard, but at his best is a magician with the ball and his brilliant kick behind the Argentina defence to wing Fassi was perfect and the latter crossed in the corner as the home side led 21-9 at halftime.
Both sides made numerous handling errors in a scrappy second half but the Boks showed greater control, especially at the set-piece where they began to dominate Argentina in the scrum.
Fassi crossed for what he thought was a second try with 10 minutes remaining, but it was ruled out after the intervention of the Television Match Official as replacement hooker Malcolm Marx was adjusted to have made a double movement in the build-up.
The home side managed another though as Hendrikse marked a memorable debut with a score in the corner as the Boks powered into the Argentina 22.
"It was not the start we wanted, but we played against a great team. We were not clinical in our game and they took advantage, so we need to work harder next week," Argentina captain Julian Montoya said.
"The set-piece, they made great use of it and they were better than us with the chase (under the high ball). But physically we matched them, we were good there."
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Pritha Sarkar)