The Springboks did full justice to the occasion of the Nelson Mandela Sport and Culture Day by delivering a stunningly ruthless performance to crush Argentina 73-13 in the opening match of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship at the FNB Stadium in Soweto on Saturday.
After leading 26-6 at the break, the Boks ran riot in the second half, scoring 47 points to the blasts of vuvuzelas before Argentina answered with a late try.
Interviewed at the post-match presentations, Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers said: "Obviously we had a lot to play for today, so hopefully we made a lot of people proud."
'We can improve'
He must have been a very satisfied man, but tried to downplay his side's runaway victory. "There are still areas that we can improve upon," he reckoned. "I think the try that we let in at the end was a bit disappointing, but there are definitely signs of us evolving and making sure that we take our opportunities.
"There were still situations in that game where we created opportunities, but didn't capitalise on them. But you can't complain too much when you win 73-13."
Man of the match Adriaan Strauss was more forthcoming with his comments, saying: "It was a great team effort today. We knew that it was going to be very tough and physical, especially the first 20 minutes, and we knew that we had to just chip away at them, and I think everyone had an outstanding game."
Top of the standings
South Africa's massive win, which took them to the top of the Rugby Championship standings - New Zealand has beaten Australia 47-29 in Sydney earlier in the day - was built on a solid scrum and very secure lineout. Indeed, a number of the Springboks' tries came off of rolling mauls from lineouts near the Pumas' try line.
The fact that nine different players dotted down showed just how effectively and well De Villiers and company moved the ball around.
As the match progressed, one could see the confidence of the men in green and gold growing. They played with more freedom, more flair and with fine interaction between forwards and backs.
The contest could not have gone much worse for Argentina, who lost the influential Patricio Albacete to a hamstring injury very early in the game. They also did themselves no favours by twice having players sin-binned.
Assessing the victory
While it was a stirring victory for the Springboks, it is difficult to assess just how good the home team's performance was. Their remaining five tests in the Rugby Championship will no doubt be far more testing and it is in those games that the Boks' standing will be more easily revealed.
However, having drawn 16-16 with the Pumas the last time the teams met in Mendoza in 2012, the victory in Soweto was a massive boost for the team's campaign so early in the competition for southern hemisphere (and many would say world) rugby supremacy.
For the first 20 minutes, as hooker Strauss accurately forecast, Argentina put up a good fight. They fell behind in the sixth minute to the first of many successful kicks by Morne Steyn. By the end of the contest, he had landed eight out of nine conversions and four out of four penalties for a match haul of 28 points.
Steyn landed another penalty before the Pumas made their way onto the scoreboard with a penalty by Felipe Contepomi in the 16th minute.
Strong work by Francois Louw at a breakdown, after a high-up-and-under by Steyn earned the Boks another penalty in the 19th minute and the flyhalf once again took a shot at goal. After striking the ball, he turned, knowing it was on target.
Strauss took too long to react to the referee's call of "no hands" at a ruck in the 23rd minute, handing Contempomi an opportunity to reduce the Pumas' deficit. He took it to make the score South Africa 9, Argentina 6.
Duane Vermeulen made a sharp break, running onto a flat ball from Ruan Pienaar. His pass to JJ Engelbrecht, which would have put the centre in the clear, was blocked by Juan Martin Hernandez and the Argentinian defence held. A warning had been sounded that effective action would come later in the match.
The Boks were playing the game in the Pumas' half and the pressure told when they won another penalty, deep in the 22 from a rolling maul. This time, Steyn, instead of attempting the easy kick at goal, set up a lineout five metres from the tryline.
After a clean take, the Springboks drove at the Pumas' line, but their momentum was stymied by a player in an offsides' position. The home team kept the ball going, however, and captain Jean de Villiers went over, but was held up. Once more, South Africa had a penalty. Once more they set up a lineout.
After driving up to the line, Strauss attempted a pass to Ruan Pienaar on the blind side. Hooker Eusebio Guinazu knocked the ball down, preventing a try. After consulting with the television match official, referee Chris Pollock awarded a penalty try and sent Guinazu to the bin. Steyn knocked over the simple conversion, stretching South Africa's lead to 16-6 after half-an-hour.
Argentina roared onto the attack from the restart and an unkind bounce of the ball fooled Steyn on the cover defence. Left wing Juan Imhoff was, however, caught as he cut inside and when South Africa turned over possession and cleared, the threat was defused for a moment.
A minute later, the Springboks broke out of their 22 after the Pumas had spilled possession while on the attack. Fullback Willie le Roux knocked a chip over a defender and suddenly there were acres of space open as Engelbrecht raced onto the ball, gathered it, and ran through unchallenged for South Africa's second try. Steyn added the extras to put South Africa well in control at 23-6.
The Springboks' confidence was on the up and they put together a nice backline move that resulted in big Willem Alberts crashing over the try line. An accidental offsides by De Villiers, though, just before Alberts broke free brought the home team back for a penalty. De Villiers pointed to the posts and Steyn did the honours to extend South Africa's lead by three points.
At halftime South Africa led 26-6.
A good, flowing backline movement early in the second half almost saw Willie le Roux breaking through by picking up his own chip, but the Pumas' cover defence managed to knock the ball into touch to prevent a third Springbok try.
Habana then spilled a pass from Le Roux inside the Argentine 22 that would have given him a good shot at a run-in down the right hand flank.
When the Pumas conceded a penalty for an early engagement at scrum time, South Africa set up a lineout once more and Strauss, after providing the throw, then bulldozed his way through the middle of the opposition pack to crash over for a try. Steyn was on target from the 15 metre line on the right to increase the South African lead to 27 points.
Argentina were by this time looking disjointed and fresh out of ideas. The Springboks had their tails up and were not about to ease the pressure on the visitors.
The Pumas' night got worse five minutes into the second stanza when eighthman Leonardo Senatore was yellow carded for a tip-tackle on Engelbrecht. The test had turned into a nightmare for coach Santiago Phelan.
South Africa kicked for a lineout in the corner, but the South Americans defended the rolling maul well. Still, the Boks maintained possession and pressure. Le Roux sent out a pass to the left, where the green and gold had a two-man overlap, but the pass was missed.
Referee Pollock, though, penalised Argentina for being offsides and it was back to a Springbok lineout and drive. This time the Pumas' defence splintered and Willem Alberts fell over the try line for South Africa's bonus point-earning fourth try. Steyn missed for the only time in the match, leaving the Springboks in a 38-6 lead.
Coach Heyneke Meyer then rang up a few changes, including a return to the green and gold for scrumhalf Fourie du Preez for the first time since the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
With 55 minutes gone, captain De Villiers extended South Africa's advantage when he anticipated an inside pass from Argentina and intercepted to run clear and score just to the right of the posts. Steyn added two more points to push the home team's total up to 45 points.
South Africa's confidence was sky high. Forwards and backs were combining superbly and even went it went wrong for the Boks the shell-shocked Pumas couldn't capitalise, knocking on when an advantage beckoned.
De Villiers then sliced his way through the Argentine midfield and looked out wide for support. Patrick Lambie, on for Le Roux, took the pass and then laid off inside to Bryan Habana, who was dragged down just short of the try line. Du Preez was on hand, though, to pick up and dive over to take the Springboks to 50 points. Steyn continued his metronomic accuracy with a successful conversion, making it 52-6.
Habana's 51st test try
Next, Lambie made a lovely break before Eben Etzebeth smashed his way forward. Du Preez, showing the excellent vision that has always served him so well, found Habana wide on the right with a hard, flat pass, leaving the speedy winger with an easy run-in for his 51st test try. Steyn knocked over another kick as the hosts' lead grew to 53 points.
When South Africa won a heel against the head, they moved the ball to the left with impressive speed. Jan Serfontein made a break and when the ball came back inside from Morne Steyn Duane Vermeulen powered his way through a big gap for yet another Springbok try. Steyn converted from wide on the left and Heyneke Meyer's charges led 66-6.
South African record
A collapsed scrum cost Argentina a penalty and there was no was hesitation from the home team as Steyn set up a lineout close to the Pumas' try line. A very convincing driving maul from the Springboks ended with Bismarck du Plessis crashing over for a try. It was a South African record seventh for a hooker. Almost inevitably, Steyn landed his kick from a tough angle.
Serfontein broke through the in the midfield again, but a poor pass to Habana prevented another five-pointer for the rampant home team.
With a minute left, Argentina claimed a consolation try. For the first time in the half they managed to put some meaningful phases together and eventually Contepomi was on hand to receive the try-scoring pass. He converted his own try and the final whistle sounded.
Final score: South Africa 73, Argentina 13.