Crunch time ... Argentina's Marcelo Bosch. Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images
CAPE TOWN: South African hooker Bismarck du Plessis has been ruled out for the rest of the season after being injured in the opening minutes of the Springboks' scrappy 21-point victory over Argentina in the Rugby Championship.
There was no fairytale debut for Argentina as they fell to a more creative South Africa at Newlands. The win was soured, however, by news that Du Plessis had been diagnosed with knee ligament damage following the game and has been withdrawn from the squad to travel to Argentina for the return leg on Sunday, Sydney time.
The match was won and lost in the first 20 minutes of the second half when the Pumas missed three penalty kicks after trailing 20-6 at half-time before right winger Bryan Habana snatched an opportunist try.
Injured ... Bismarck du Plessis of South Africa. Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images
''We played well in patches but there is a lot of work ahead and we need to be hard on ourselves when analysing this match,'' Springboks captain Jean de Villiers said.
''There was a lot to play for today after the terrible scenes at Lonmin mine two days ago. We have a huge job to perform for our country - we have to offer people hope.''
Clashes between armed police and miners striking for higher salaries in the North West province on Thursday led to 34 deaths, dozens of injuries and hundreds of arrests.
''Argentina made history today and we feel honoured as the first players from the country to play in the southern hemisphere championship,'' said skipper and No.8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. ''This was a high-intensity rugby match and I am proud of my players for never giving up. I am also grateful to those who worked so hard for so many years to get us this opportunity.''
South Africa will be disappointed at failing to secure a bonus-point fourth try from late pressure in what will probably be the easiest of six fixtures in the former Tri Nations.
Five-eighth Morne Steyn was back to his place-kicking best for the Springboks after a poor mid-year series against England, landing three conversions and two penalties for a perfect record.
Argentina could have done with him as outside-centre Marcelo Bosch failed from an early second-half penalty attempt and then fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez fluffed two closer-range kicks at goal.
The Pumas pack recovered from a poor start in which they conceded free kicks at the first two scrums for early engagements to hold their own in the set pieces and win some crucial turnovers.
But the backs never looked like scoring a try and this will be an area of concern for coach Santiago Phelan before the return match in western provincial capital Mendoza.
Fullback Zane Kirchner and breakaway Marcell Coetzee crossed the try line in the first half for South Africa with Steyn converting both and kicking two penalties.
Hernandez, back in the blue and white of the Pumas after a three-year injuries-induced absence, succeeded with both his first-half penalty attempts for the South Americans.