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SPORTS | 27-08-2018 08:54

Pumas skipper Agustín Creevy hails landmark win over South Africa

Bloodied Argentina skipper hails 32-19 triumph over Springboks as "special" after national team ends humiliating string of defeats in style.

A bloodied Argentina skipper Agustín Creevy hailed a 32-19 Rugby Championship triumph over South Africa this weekend as "special" after ending a humiliating string of defeats. 

The Pumas had lost their previous 11 matches in the competition and 23 of 29 Tests since finishing fourth at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.

Only a week ago, Argentina faded in South Africa after leading at half-time and fell 34-21 in the opening round of the southern hemisphere competition.

"All victories are sweet, but this one was particularly satisfying," said the veteran hooker, who finished the Mendoza match with a blood-stained bandage covering a head wound. "We faced a powerful Springboks team and we won – that is special. We took a big step forward from last weekend when we lost in Durban.

"The team learnt from the mistakes made in South Africa. We attacked brilliantly in the first half and defended equally brilliantly in the second half," he told reporters.

Fly-half and man-of-the-match Nicolás Sánchez, who scored 17 first-half points, said the 27,500 crowd in the western Argentina city inspired the team.

"This is a perfect venue for us. The crowd were magnificent. They inspired us with their sustained support. The second half was extremely difficult for us because South Africa had a lot of possession and were camped in our half of the pitch.

"They tried to wear us out, but we kept our lead thanks to a gigantic effort by everyone – the run-on team and the replacements. I favoured tactical kicking at times to slow the pace and try to dictate the rhythm of the match."

Winger Bautista Delguy, who scored two tries during a 21-point scoring blitz midway through the first half, said the Pumas had become tired of losing.

"We were desperate for a victory – to turn the corner. Everyone produced a huge performance and now we can look forward with more confidence. The team suffered collectively during the second half as we kept the Springboks at bay. We may have conceded soft tries in the past – but not today."

Amid the euphoria of defeating the Springboks, coach and former Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma will want to improve the scrumming, which crumbled after a good first-half showing.

First match

It was an astounding start for new Pumas coach Ledesma, as the national team ended an 11-match losing streak in the Rugby Championship spanning three years as they upset the Springboks 32-19 in Mendoza.

Sánchez starred for the Pumas in the second-round match, scoring 17 first-half points as they built a 27-7 half-time lead at Estadio Malvinas Argentinas.

South Africa, who triumphed 34-21 when the teams clashed in Durban last weekend, dominated the second half but could only outscore Argentina by two tries to one.

Ledesma had demanded more passion and better defending after the first-round loss and he got it before a vocal 27,460 crowd.

As much as the Pumas sparkled when attacking in the first half, they repeatedly held the dominant Springboks at bay during the second half.

New Zealand, who crushed Australia 40-12 in Auckland, top the standings with 10 points followed by South Africa with five, Argentina on four and Australia are pointless.

Sánchez opened the scoring on a clear day in western Argentina with a penalty as the South Americans sought revenge after conceding six tries in Durban last weekend.  

But a visiting team who have been slow starters in Tests this season hit back with skipper Siya Kolisi racing over for a try which Handre Pollard converted.

It took five minutes for the highly charged Pumas to regain the lead with a brilliant line break leading to a try in the corner by Bautista Delguy.

The winger scored again in the same corner soon after as Argentina once again exposed poor blind-side defending by South Africa.

Tormenting

Sánchez converted both tries and then scored one himself after a scrum following the yellow-carding of Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth for a professional foul. 

The 'little general' converted his try and Argentina had turned a four-point deficit into a 17-point advantage in a stadium at the foothills of the snow-capped Andes mountains.

Sánchez was not finished tormenting South Africa, though, as he slotted a drop goal on 37 minutes to complete the first-half scoring and leave the Pumas 20 points ahead at the break.

Argentina were full value for the big lead, showing a particularly dramatic improvement from last weekend when scrumming.

Perhaps it was a lack of faith in off-form Pollard, who fluffed a simple early penalty, but South Africa spurned several shots at goal, opting for kicks to touch that yielded nothing.

The second half saw a dramatic change of roles with South Africa attacking and Argentina defending.

But the Pumas stretched their lead to 25 points when Ramiro Moyano went over and Sanchez missed a shot at goal for the first time in the match when his conversion drifted left.

Lionel Mapoe, an early substitute for Makazole Mapimpi, scored two tries, but Pollard converted only one to leave South Africa trailing 32-19 with 15 minutes left. 

They failed to score again with Argentina winning some crucial turnovers and Guido Petti stealing a couple of South African line-out throws.

'Embarrassing'

South Africa coach Johan 'Rassie' Erasmus said Sunday that he was ashamed of his team's showing in Mendoza.

"It was embarrassing and not the kind of performance you expect to see from the Springboks," he told reporters in the western city at the foothills of the Andes mountains.

"We made only one change to the starting team from last weekend, when we dominated them," Erasmus noted, referring to a 34-21 opening-round victory in Durban. The fingers of blame must be pointed at ourselves – firstly the coaches and then the players – and we have to fix the problems."

Erasmus said the long flight from Johannesburg to Mendoza via Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires was not an excuse for the second-round setback.

"We travelled a day later than in the past and we outplayed the Pumas in the second half because we were the fresher team."

Former Springbok Erasmus, who succeeded Allister Coetzee this year after South Africa won only 11 of 25 Tests during two seasons, refused to praise any aspect of the performance. 

"I am not going to look for positives after a performance like that. We have no excuses to offer. We knew exactly what to expect and we prepared accordingly, but we just did not handle the situation."

Next up for Argentina in the six-round Championship are matches in New Zealand on September 8 and Australia seven days later. 

- TIMES/AFP

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