Pretoria (AFP) – South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer hailed newcomers Handre Pollard and Lood de Jager after starting their Rugby Championship campaign Saturday with a laboured 13-6 home win over Argentina.
It was a Test the Springboks were expected to win convincingly, but monsoon-like conditions put paid to any hopes of a try fest at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria.
The result gave South Africa an early lead in the southern hemisphere championship with four points, two more than Australia and title-holders New Zealand, who drew 12-12 in Sydney.
Argentina collected a losing bonus point and are relishing the chance to tackle the Springboks again next weekend in Salta.
Northern Bulls fly-half Pollard and Central Cheetahs lock De Jager debuted in a 55-6 Port Elizabeth romp over Scotland two months ago.
And Meyer liked what he saw when they got a second chance to stake claims for places in the 2015 Rugby World Cup squad.
“We had a 20-year-old (Pollard) running play at fly-half and a 21-year-old (De Jager) calling the line-outs and they did very well,” said the coach.
“New centre Damian de Allende was another to show the character I expected. A lot of the guys in the team today are 23 years or younger.”
Meyer was unconcerned about the close call against a nation they humiliated 73-13 in the corresponding fixture last year.
“I will be happy to keep on winning — even if it is by one point in every match. That is what rugby is all about,” stressed the former Bulls handler.
He had hoped for a running game to start the Championship season, but torrential rain and 15 stubborn Pumas put paid to that.
“Argentina are not a continuity team — they are a contesting team. It is not always easy to get a flow to your match.
“We played well for 30 minutes, but did not get the points we deserved and that affected us.
“Argentina had a better kicking game than us, but luckily Willie le Roux was excellent.”
Flank Francois Louw was the official man of the match, but Le Roux must have been a close contender after a number of superb catches off high kicks.
Argentina have yet to win in 13 Championship outings since a 2012 debut, but hooker and new skipper Agustin Creevy believes history could be created in Salta next Saturday.
“Our people will be backing us and I am hopeful after a good showing in Pretoria. I am pleased with the performance, but sad that we lost.
“The media often praise our forwards, but the backs also did a superb job against the Springboks.
“When South Africa scored an early try I called the team together and we vowed there would not be a repeat of last year when we conceded nine tries.”
Coach Daniel Hourcade, who replaced Santiago Phelan after the six-loss 2013 Championship campaign, said he was both proud and sad.
“After a week of sun, the last thing we expected on match day was torrential rain. The team made me so proud, but we desperately wanted to win.”
Golden Lions No. 8 and skipper Warren Whiteley will replace injured flanker Willem Alberts in the Springboks squad that leaves Johannesburg Sunday for Buenos Aires.
- Sports Recreation
- Heyneke Meyer
- Handre Pollard
- South Africa
- Lood de Jager