South Africa obliterated Argentina 46-13 to win the Rugby Championship in Salta, their first triumph since 2009.
The victory was owed to a world-class display from fly-half Handre Pollard who scored two tries and kicked 21 points, as the Springboks sent out a warning to the competition ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Finishing the competition unbeaten, Boks captain Duane Vermeulen said the title was a significant sign of how far South Africa have come over the past 12 months.
“I think for us the most important thing was to work on our consistency,” Vermeulen said after the celebrations in Argentina had cooled down.
“We started the Rugby Championship working on executing our plans, and in a way we are happy with our performance but there are still a few things to work on.
“It’s a great feeling for us to walk away with the title, but in the end it’s a stepping stone for us going into the World Cup.”
Los Pumas started the match in the best possible way as former Exeter Chiefs wing Santiago Cordero took 100 seconds to give the hosts the lead.
A perfectly-weighted cross-field kick from backline general Nicolas Sanchez was gathered by Cordero under pressure from Makazole Mapimpi for the score.
Pollard reduced the deficit via a ninth-minute penalty and the visitors went in front soon afterwards when hooker Bongi Mbonambi scored off a rolling maul formed from the lineout.
The opening half then became a goal-kicking battle between playmakers Pollard and Sanchez with the former, the top points-scorer in Super Rugby this season, kicking three penalties and converting his try in the final minute of the half.
Pollard’s influence in allowing the Boks to take a 24-13 lead into the interval was matched by the scrummaging and work rate in defence of tighthead prop Trevor Nyakane.
The Bulls forward has received an endorsement from scrum guru Daan Human to win the starting job in Rassie Erasmus’s World Cup plan.
In competition with 30-cap Frans Malherbe, Nyakane was part of a Boks set-piece which operated a perfect scrum (winning five from their own feed and forcing two turnovers against the head) and lineout (12 from 12).
South Africa upped the ante in the second half with another try for Pollard, as well as Mapimpi and fellow wing Cheslin Kolbe.
Despite their dominance on foreign soil, Vermeulen did urge caution to his teammates as he expects the All Blacks to return in frenzy after their third-place finish.
“The victory is a great thing for our country because we know that if the Springboks do well then everyone is happy in South Africa,” Vermeulen added.
“So for us it’s a great feeling, but I want to emphasise it’s more about working on our consistency and working towards the things we hope to achieve.”
“New Zealand had a tough game and they will be hungry to bounce back so we have to prepare well. But we are happy with where we are at the moment.”
Tries: Cordero 2
Conversions: Sanchez 3
Penalties: Sanchez 17, 28
Tries: Mbonambi 13, Pollard 40, 54, Mapimpi 64, Kolbe 67
Conversions: Pollard 40, 65, 68
Penalties: Pollard 9, 19, 25, 31, 42
Referee: Romain Poite