Having held a twelve point lead after sixty minutes Argentina appeared to be set to defeat South Africa in Saturday's round two Rugby Championship in Salta. The Springboks, however, hit back to win the final quarter and complete a late come from behind victory to hold on to top spot of the Rugby Championship. After two rounds Argentina is winless but is not bottom of the table. Bottom spot is held by Australia who was badly defeated earlier on in the day by New Zealand in Auckland. Australia is to now prepare to host the Springboks and Pumas while New Zealand will do so in the reverse fixture after next weekend sees no matches played.
South Africa's 33-31 victory came three minutes from fulltime. Replacement fly half Moyne Steyn landed a penalty chance from slightly to the right of the posts after Argentine replacement tighthead prop Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro had played the ball on the ground inside his own 22. It saw captain Agustín Creevy less than impressed as Argentina just had to hang on and not give away penalties to complete a first ever Rugby Championship victory.
Rather than blame his replacement tighthead Hourcade blamed himself for not having made changes earlier. Tetaz Chaparro had been a 67th minute replacement and after he came on Matías Alemanno did so with South Africa leading 30-28. Marcelo Bosch put Argentina back ahead with a long range penalty from inside his own half to have it 31-28 but South Africa got the win following Nahuel Chaparro's law breaking in the tackle area.
Following the penalty landed by Steyn Hourcade made a notable four changes. Jerónimo De la Fuente, Horacio Agulla, Bruno Postiglioni and Matías Cortese all came on with two or less minutes left in the match. Post match Hourcade said ''it was fundamental to make the changes earlier. It was a difficult situation to make this decision.''
Prior to South Africa'a third and final converted try in the 69th minute Hourcade had made no second half replacements. Two substitutions had been made but were injury motivated. Martín Landajo and Pablo Matera had both been forced from the field through injury in the first half. It meant replacement options were thin in the second half but the lack of quality replacement options ultimately led to Hourcade waiting too late.
With the non-selection of Patricio Albacete and Manuel Carizza Hourcade's replacement second-rower was Matías Alemanno, a player uncapped prior to 2014. Injuries to Juan Figallo and Maximilano Bustos also meant that replacement props were Rugby Championship debutants. The scenario was no different at either hooker or centre as Agulla and Leonardo Senatore were the only regular squad members in 2013 on the bench.
With no match being played next weekend Hourcade now has an opportunity to call upon some reinforcements. Pablo Matera is in doubt for the tour matches in Napier and the Gold Coast while the early exit of Martín Landajo raises questions over a return for Agustín Figuerola who is a first choice scrumhalf in the French Top 14. Figuerola together with Albacete, Carizza and Santiago Fernández could be called up for the second stage of the Rugby Championship.
Fernández could give Argentina greater depth at fly half now that Juan Martín Hernández's move to inside centre proved to be well thought out. With him playing inside centre rather than fly half or fullback Argentina had a second pivot which meant Argentina had greater options in attack. El Mago landed a first half drop goal and also provided the pass for the opening try of the match as Hernández linked with Manuel Montero who got through an attempted Cornall Hendricks tackle to score in the corner.
Shortly after the try Argentina attacked in search of a second but a loose pass from Martín Landajo saw the South Americans punished as Bryan Habana completed an eighty metre try which also saw Matera leave injured. With no further points being scored after the Handre Pollard conversion the visitors held a 16-13 half time lead.
Landajo's replacement, Tomás Cubelli, scored next as the scrumhalf got through three attempted tackles to score to the left of the posts in the 46th minute. Sánchez landed the conversion but missed an attempt four minutes later after fullback Joaquín Tuculet scored in the left corner with referee Steve Walsh checking both tries with the TMO.
Argentina's 25-16 lead became 28-16 following a 55th minute penalty from Sánchez but opportunities went begging thereafter as seventeen late South African points meant Argentina's wait for a win in the Rugby Championship will continue. Sánchez, however, was not happy with Walsh declaring that his 56th minute attempted dropgoal had missed. Walsh did not ask for the replay despite it showing serious doubt in the decision.
Reinforcements for South Africa saw the tide change as South Africa's late seventeen points featuring tries to Hendricks and replacement forward Marcell Corteze completed the get out of jail win. The late fight back has seen pressure placed on the South African squad with it deemed as having been an underwhelming, or fortunate, outcome.
South Africa can now look to complete an away victory over the vulnerable Wallabies in Perth on Saturday September 6 and with it maintain top spot of the Rugby Championship. Argentina is to face New Zealand in Napier, a venue the All Blacks have not played in for almost two decades.