South Africa laboured to a 13-6 win over Argentina in a game spoiled by driving rain and a water-soaked field on the opening day of the Rugby Championship on Sunday (NZT).
The Springboks scored a second-minute try through scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar before the rain poured down at Loftus Versfeld to make it a match full of errors. Both teams preferred to kick and play for field position rather than risk attacking with the ball in hand in slippery and at times almost impossible conditions.
South Africa flyhalf Handre Pollard landed a conversion and a penalty, and his replacement Morne Steyn added a second-half penalty to keep the home team ahead throughout, but not without a huge fight from a dogged Argentina team.
"Yeah, it wasn't great but we're happy with the result. It's a win and we'll take it from here," South Africa captain Jean de Villiers said.
Argentina is yet to win in 13 games in the championship, but scrummed far better than South Africa, continually disrupted the No 2-ranked team's lineout, and finished on the front foot and hammering away at the Boks' tryline before a handling mistake by centre Marcelo Bosch ended their final attack and the match.
The Pumas' points came from two penalties by first-five Nicolas Sanchez, one early in the first half and one early in the second.
"We have been working a lot on the scrums and the lineouts," Argentina captain and hooker Agustin Creevy said. "I thought the scrum was very good but we have to be more patient to get better results."
South Africa earned four points to lead the early standings in the southern hemisphere tournament after the All Blacks were held to a 12-12 draw in Australia earlier Saturday, also in wet and difficult weather in Sydney. Argentina took a bonus point for losing by seven points or less, but the perennial tournament underdog enhanced its reputation by taking on the South African forwards and often coming out on top in those exchanges in Pretoria.
In the end, Pienaar's converted score right at the start was the difference between the teams. With the field still reasonably dry, he broke from the back of a rolling maul and swapped passes with wing Cornal Hendricks down the short side before speeding away to slide in at the right corner.
South Africa never looked like scoring another try as the pitch became a collection of puddles and a gritty Argentina was constantly competitive in the conditions.
"It was a great start to the game but not a great start to the competition, I suppose," De Villiers said. "I must say this must rate as one of the games with the worst conditions I've played in."
In the first half, Argentina wing Manuel Montero dropped the ball when he looked to have a clear run to the line. South Africa fullback Willie le Roux also lost possession five metres out from the tryline as he tried to collect his own chip ahead. They were two of very few attacks out wide by either side.
The rain eased in the second half but the field was still water-logged, making it difficult to put any prolonged attacking plays together.
Near the end, the Pumas applied some pressure and the forwards drove their way to a metre out from the South African tryline before another fumble. In the very last move, Argentina made a rare decision to send the ball out to the backline and Bosch dropped a difficult pass as the soap-like ball squirmed away from him.
South Africa 13 (Ruan Pienaar try; Handre Pollard penalty, conversion, Morne Steyn penalty), Argentina 6 (Nicolas Sanchez 2 penalties). HT: 10-3.