Springboks win but by not enough and All Blacks clinch title
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa scored five tries in a 38-21 win over a stubborn Argentina that wasn’t enough to wrestle the Rugby Championship title away from New Zealand in the final game on Saturday.
South Africa needed a bonus-point victory and to win by more than 39 points to steal the crown at the very end of the championship, but the Springboks didn’t even get their bonus point and had to buckle down just to win the game in the face of a Pumas fightback.
“It’s tough but we’ll never take a win for granted,” Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said. “We knew they were never going to back down. We wish we could have done it (clinch the title), but just grateful to get the win in the end.”
New Zealand beat Australia 40-14 in their final-round game in Auckland earlier Saturday to set South Africa the imposing target, and the All Blacks retained their title and claimed their eighth triumph in 10 tournaments in the Rugby Championship era.
Argentina scored three tries of its own in Durban and twice closed the gap to three points at 17-14 and 24-21 before the Boks got away in the last 10 minutes. Last weekend in Buenos Aires, the Pumas rallied to within two points of the Boks. Captain Julian Montoya said they need only a little more self-belief to topple the world champions.
“We respect them, that’s what they are, but we have to trust ourselves more and know that we can beat them,” Montoya said. “When we do what we want to do, we are as good as them. In the second half we dominated a lot. Every minute, every action, every indiscipline and every decision counts on the field. We’re going to improve.”
Referee Damon Murphy of Australia dished out six yellow cards, four to Argentina, as both sides lost their discipline when the other had supremacy.
Argentina played half of the first half with 14 men after flankers Marcos Kremer and Juan Martín González both went to the bin in the struggle to contain South Africa, and particularly its lineout maul.
That was turned on its head after halftime when Argentina’s drives from lineouts caused South Africa all sorts of problems.
Eventually, the Springboks weathered Argentina’s ferocious comeback — just as they did in Buenos Aires — and replacement Kurt-Lee Arendse ran in South Africa’s last try after the final hooter.
By then, the All Blacks were the southern hemisphere champions once again.
New Zealand started the tournament with a 26-10 defeat to South Africa and coach Ian Foster on the brink of being fired after a startling run of losses for rugby’s most successful team. But the All Blacks pulled it together to continue their dominance of the Rugby Championship since the Tri-Nations expanded with Argentina in 2012.
South Africa and Australia have just one title each since then and Argentina has never won.
In Durban, the Springboks started with their sights on a grand finale and, at 17-0 after tries by No. 8 Jasper Wiese and Kolisi, and a penalty from inside his own half by Frans Steyn, it looked on.
Argentina scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou’s try right on halftime, from a clever dive to the line over a ruck, changed the momentum.
Flanker González, back after his yellow, closed the gap even further seven minutes into the second half with a burst down the left and sidestep that left South Africa fullback Willie le Roux on his backside.
Emiliano Boffelli kicked the conversion from out wide to make it 17-14 and South Africa had to scramble from then on just to end the tournament with a win.
The Springboks had two penalty tries from collapsed mauls near the Argentina tryline to help. They came either side of Argentina’s third try, from center Matías Moroni.
Arendse put the seal on it after a rare backline attack from the Boks, giving the winger a try-scoring return from a four-week suspension he picked up in the opening round of the championship.
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