Argentina coach Michael Cheika says the first half of their 36-20 loss to South Africa in the Rugby Championship was “one of the worst I remember” but vowed to keep faith with the players for their final fixture against the Springboks in Durban on Saturday.
The visitors dominated the opening 40 minutes in Buenos Aires and might have led by a greater margin than 22-6 at halftime as their incessant pressure forced Argentina to concede multiple penalties, many inside their own 22.
But the home side roared back into contention with a much-improved display in the second half and pulled the scoreboard back to 22-20 before two late tries for the Boks sealed their bonus-point win.
“The first half is one of the worst I remember, we conceded many penalties,” Cheika told reporters. “In the second, we got into the game. It was a missed opportunity, but I will go to South Africa with these same players.
“We were able to gain contact and settle down (in the second half). I think we became strong at times and went back to the basics, to tackle hard.”
While not directly criticising New Zealand referee James Doleman, Cheika questioned why his side were suddenly racking up penalties at a rate that makes victory extremely difficult.
“I promised my mother not to talk about the referee anymore and I can’t lie to my mother,” he said with a rueful smile. “Before the last two games, we were the least penalised team (in the Rugby Championship).
“Against New Zealand and the world champions (South Africa) we were penalised 19 times.”
New Zealand and South Africa head the Rugby Championship table with 14 points. The All Blacks host Australia in Auckland in their final clash, where a bonus-point win will likely be enough to seal the title.