A last-gasp Warren Whiteley try gave South Africa a dramatic 30-23 victory over Argentina Saturday after a Rugby Championship first-round thriller in Nelspruit.
Trailing by 10 points with 10 minutes left, the Springboks fought back to score two tries and avenge a stunning home loss to the Pumas in the corresponding fixture last season.
Recalled full-back Johan Goosen, who had a quiet match, triggered the fightback with a try created by scrum-half and man of the match Faf de Klerk.
And with less than a minute left, No. 8 Whiteley dived over in the corner to give the hosts a winning start over brave opponents who secured a losing bonus point.
In the opening match of the Championship earlier Saturday, world champions New Zealand thrashed Australia 42-8 in Sydney.
“We made it difficult for ourselves by not taking all the chances to put points on the scoreboard,” admitted South Africa skipper and hooker Adriaan Strauss.
“Chasing a game is not fun, but I never doubted that we could overcome the 10-point deficit and win the match.” Argentina skipper and hooker Agustin Creevy, winning his 50th cap, had mixed feelings about the 23rd international between the countries, 21 of which South Africa have won.
“We must learn to close out games when 10 points ahead, but a positive is that we continue to show improvement in this Championship.
“Naturally, I am upset that we did not win this Test, but I am very proud to have represented my country 50 times.” South Africa had the first scoring chance on a pitch made slippery by pre-match rain, but fly-half Elton Jantjies pulled his kick wide of the right post.
However, from the drop-out the Springboks took the lead with Jantjies bursting past two defenders and Goosen sent right wing Ruan Combrinck over in the corner.
Jantjies atoned for his penalty miss by converting from the touchline to give the home side a seven-point lead as they sought revenge for a stunning 37-25 loss in Durban last year.
Rival fly-halves Nicolas Sanchez and Jantjies traded penalties and South Africa led 10-3 midway through the opening half. Giant Argentine left wing Manuel Montero was sin-binned on 22 minutes for lifting South African centre Damian de Allende and then flinging him to the ground.
But it did not prove to be a setback as the South Americans scored 10 unanswered points when reduced to 14 players.
Sanchez slotted a penalty and then superb handling involving backs and forwards culminated in centre Matias Orlando diving over for a try Sanchez converted.
South Africa fluffed chances to score again before half-time in front of a 27,500 crowd.
Jantjies missed two penalties, one of which came back off a post, and centre Lionel Mapoe lost possession over the try-line, leaving the Pumas 13-10 ahead at the break.
There was a further blow for the Springboks six minutes into the second half when veteran Bryan Habana was sin-binned after an aerial collision with fellow winger Santiago Cordero.
The twice former world champions survived being numerically disadvantaged by keeping the Argentines scoreless while a man down. Jantjies and Sanchez traded penalties before the Pumas went 23-13 ahead through a Cordero try that Sanchez converted. A four-minute purple patch for South Africa brought the teams level as Goosen scored and Jantjies slotted a conversion and a penalty.
Whiteley then snatched the crucial try which Jantjies also converted from the touchline.