Springboks rely on 2nd-half surge to see off Argentina 34-21
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — South Africa scored four tries in the second half to come from behind and beat Argentina 34-21 in the Rugby Championship on Saturday, avoiding a second straight surprise defeat to the Pumas in Durban.
The Springboks scored first but trailed 14-5 and 14-10 at halftime after Argentina hit back with tries by flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez and flanker Pablo Matera at Kings Park, where the Argentines won their first test over South Africa in a big shock in 2015.
This time, South Africa avoided the upset with three tries and 17 unanswered points in the first 15 minutes of the second half, with wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and Makazole Mapimpi each completing a double.
South Africa dominated territory throughout but wasted opportunities in attack and was sloppy again with 13 minutes left to gift Argentina center Matias Moroni an intercept try. The Pumas were just a converted try behind and in striking range at 27-21.
Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk's snipe from close range, the sixth try for the Boks, put the game beyond doubt and gave coach Rassie Erasmus a winning start in the Rugby Championship.
"I think for the first 25 minutes of the second half we were OK," Erasmus said. "But out of the 80 (minutes), that was the only 25 that was really good. Apart from that, we were scrappy."
South Africa's bonus-point victory matched defending champion New Zealand's six-try, 38-13 win over Australia earlier Saturday to open the Rugby Championship.
The Springboks also had lock Eben Etzebeth back in action after an eight-month injury absence and No. 8 Warren Whiteley returned for his first test in more than a year.
Erasmus has three wins from five tests since taking over the Springboks this season. He beat England 2-1 in a home series in June but his progress will be judged when South Africa faces Australia and, ultimately, the top-ranked All Blacks later in the Rugby Championship.
Argentina's coach was also in charge of his first game in the championship, with Mario Ledesma having far less time to prepare his team after taking over the Pumas at the start of this month.
Argentina pounced on two opportunities to go ahead in the first half but struggled with its set-piece and didn't see much ball as a result.
"We lost the game over that," Argentina captain Agustin Creevy said.
Center Lukhanyo Am put South Africa in front in the eighth minute but the home team couldn't hold the lead.
Sanchez's high kick caused problems for South Africa fullback Willie le Roux, Argentina recovered possession at the breakdown, and Sanchez darted through the disjointed defense to go between the posts.
Matera, in his 50th test, strode in to score when South Africa again lost possession.
Dyantyi, after a try-scoring debut against England in June, scored his first from a cross-kick by le Roux eight minutes before halftime.
Springboks flyhalf Handre Pollard struggled from the kicking tee, though, and Argentina led by four at the break.
Dyantyi was the spark for the Boks in the second, with another kick chase two minutes into the half restoring South Africa's lead and giving him three tries in his first four tests. Nowhere near a dream season yet, he said: "Let's win against New Zealand, then we can call it a dream season."
Mapimpi collected his two tries in the space of five minutes, going in untouched both times from big overlaps and getting a gift from Dyantyi for his second when his wing partner could have scored himself and had a hat trick.
South Africa was still in control when debutant flyhalf Damian Willemse, who came off the bench, threw a high looping pass to another newcomer, flanker Marco van Staden. Van Staden couldn't hold the pass and Moroni swooped to run 40 meters the other way for Argentina's third.
De Klerk capped a solid day for him personally with the pressure-relieving score with 10 minutes to go, finishing off after South Africa's forwards had driven to a meter out from Argentina's tryline.
Argentina hosts the Springboks in a return game next weekend.