Springboks claim Rugby Championship title

Reuters, AP

South Africa warmed up for the Rugby World Cup in superb style by beating Argentina 46-13 in the southern hemisphere’s Rugby Championship in Salta on Saturday to claim its first major international trophy in a decade.

Flyhalf Handre Pollard scored two tries and tallied a career-high 31 points to help the Springboks claim to a fourth southern hemisphere title.

The emphatic win gave the unbeaten South Africans a bonus point and a total of 12 points from their three matches, four more than second-place Australia, which stunned reigning champion New Zealand 47-26 in Perth earlier in the day.

“It’s a fantastic feeling,” said Duane Vermeulen, who captained the two-time world champions.

“It’s the first time in 10 years South Africa has won the Rugby Championship or Tri-Nations and it’s a nice reward for all the hard work we’ve put in.

“It’s also a good thing for us going into the World Cup. It’s one step up, still a lot of work to be done but yah, it’s a good feeling.”

Pollard touched down in each half and booted five penalties and three conversions to drive home the overwhelming advantage the Springboks held over the Pumas in set pieces.

His second try came when the Springboks were down to 14 men, with scrumhalf Faf de Klerk in the sin-bin for joining a ruck from the side after the visitors conceded a series of penalties near their goal line.

Argentina, which won the previous meeting between the teams, shocked South Africa with a try by winger Santiago Cordero after two minutes.

South Africa responded with Pollard’s first penalty and a try by hooker Bongi Mbonambi from a concerted lineout drive. The lead changed hands three times in an exchange of penalties between Pollard and Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez before the Springboks edged ahead.

Pollard’s first try gave his side a 24-13 advantage at the break.

For much of the opening half it seemed the Springboks might squander their huge volume of possession, just as they did in the 16-16 draw with New Zealand in their previous match.

They struggled at first to use the ball effectively in outside channels, but that changed in the second half as they played with more confidence and combination while Argentina visibly tired.

“We play the best teams in the southern hemisphere so it’s good to have this step up,” Vermuelen said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done but it’s a good feeling.”

The Pumas, whose last test win was against the Springboks in Mendoza, Argentina, in the 2018 championship, have now lost their last eight test matches although close results against New Zealand and Australia had given them confidence ahead of the match in Salta.

Argentina coach Mario Ledesma said that despite the disappointing results in the truncated championship, Argentina would not be distracted from its preparations for a tough World Cup pool that also includes England and France.

“It’s tough to find positives with this result but it was a good week,” Ledesma said.

“It hurts us all, in our country . . . but there’s still a month of work before the World Cup and we must not lose sight of our focus.

“We’ll keep at the things we are working on. The scrum is something that needs work. Fitting in the players from abroad was a bigger challenge than we expected.”