A first minute try from Ruan Pienaar proved decisive as South Africa beat Argentina 13-6 in this morning's (NZ time) rain-affected Rugby Championship test at Loftus Versfeld to record a winning start to the annual four-nation competition.
Pienaar's early score suggested a possible repeat of last year's runaway 73-13 home win for the Springboks over the South Americans but a heavy downpour turned this year's opening match for both countries into an unattractive contest.
Handling errors and testy exchanges dominated the rest of the game as the converted try proved the difference with Handre Pollard and his replacement Morne Steyn both contributing a penalty while Nicolas Sanchez slotted over two of his own for the Pumas.
A darting break from Pienaar from the first scrum saw him flip the ball right to winger Cornal Hendricks who played a pass back inside for the scrumhalf to race away and score. South Africa's 20-year-old flyhalf Pollard, winning his second cap, converted to set pulses racing
"It was a great start to the game but not a great start to the competition," said South Africa captain Jean de Villiers.
Sanchez kicked a seventh minute penalty for Argentina's first points, but the seven-point gap was restored 10 minutes later by Pollard as South Africa went into the break 10-3 up.
By halftime the match had denigrated into a scrappy affair as both teams failed to take command of a slippery ball and were unable to show any continuity on a soaking wet pitch, with lashing rain and occasional hail falling from the skies
De Villiers said it was the worst conditions he had ever played in. "And I spent a season at Munster," he added.
A kicking game ensued in the second half with Sanchez slotting a second penalty to make it 10-6 early on before Steyn, who came on for Pollard, kicked over the game's final score in the 50th minute.
The final half-hour increasingly became a battle of attrition as South Africa went in search of more points.
They were more than matched by Argentina in the scrums and driving play, however, but the visitors paid a heavy price for making too many errors at key moments.
In a furious last five minutes they had three clear chances to possibly draw the game.
A set move from a lineout saw captain Agustin Creevy burst away only to be stopped just short of the South African tryline and only some solid defence held off several more drives before Argentina lost possession.
Soon after, Steyn's clearing kick was charged down to present Argentina with another chance but Bryan Habana got back in time to touch down a loose ball for a 22-metre dropout.
With the full time hooter already sounded, Argentina's backline had one final chance but centre Marcelo Bosch knocked on to end their chances of forcing a dramatic comeback.
The Pumas did have the consolation of a bonus point and will be buoyed by their forward performance as they take on the Springboks again next Saturday at home in Salta.
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