New Zealand and S.Africa provide four of the five nominees for 2014 world player of the year award
Salta (Argentina) (AFP) - Fly-half Morne Steyn kicked a penalty three minutes from time to earn South Africa a lucky 33-31 win over Argentina in a Rugby Championship thriller.
Trailing by 12 points after 56 minutes, a Springboks side given a torrid time in the forward exchanges for much of the match clawed back to snatch victory.
The scrums were a particular problem for the two-time world champions with the Argentines shoving them back metres several times.
Success on a hot, clear afternoon in north-western Argentina on Saturday lifted leaders South Africa to eight points on the southern hemisphere championship table, one above title-holders New Zealand.
Defeat left the often dominant Pumas wondering what they must do to end a 14-match win-less run since debuting in the competition two seasons ago.
Springboks centre and skipper Jean de Villiers cut a relieved figure after the close call on a day when New Zealand gave a masterclass in a 51-20 drubbing of Australia.
"We stuck to our guns and won," he sighed. "Argentina are getting better and better -- and played unbelievably well today.
"They created many challenges for us. And I am just happy that we beat them a second time within eight days.
"There were problems at scrum time, but when it really counted, the pack did well.
"This team is a work in progress. And there are lots of errors to be corrected.
"Youngsters like Damian de Allende and Handre Pollard are on a steep learning curve and they will get better and better."
A stong wind favoured Argentina in the opening half and early pressure from the hosts culminated in fly-half Nicolas Sanchez kicking a close-range penalty.
Tentative South Africa battled to get inside the Pumas' half and were lucky when a marginal forward-pass call prevented the home side scoring a try.
But the visitors levelled when fly-half Pollard slotted a penalty, keeping his nerve amid whistling and booing from a fiercely partisan crowd.
A snap drop goal by veteran centre Juan Martin Hernandez restored the Pumas' lead only for Pollard to level again through another penalty.
Referee Steve Walsh gave the teams a water break midway through the half and soon after Argentina led for the third time via a try from big left-wing Manuel Montero.
Sheer power took the Pumas close and when they could not barge over, the ball was passed quickly across the field to set up a score in the corner which Sanchez converted.
Pollard narrowed the gap to four points with his third penalty as the visitors struggled to stamp any authority on a scrappy opening half.
Springboks scrum-half Ruan Pienaar then temporarily switched codes to football as he created a barely deserved try for left-wing Bryan Habana.
Pienaar booted the ball along the ground three times as a counter-attack caught the home team napping and Habana raced up to touch down. Pollard converted for a 16-13 half-time advantage.
Undaunted, the Pumas made a great start to the second half and replacement scrum-half Tomas Cubelli and full-back Joaquin Tuculet scored tries within four minutes.
Cubelli evaded two weak tackles after a scrum to dart over and Tuculet held off De Allende and De Villiers to dot down in the corner. Sanchez converted the first try.
The fly-half also succeeded with a close-range penalty and Argentina were 28-16 ahead and sensing victory.
South Africa needed a try quickly and right-wing Cornal Hendricks obliged, going over in the corner.
Replacement Steyn converted and there were just five points between the teams as they took a second water break.
The Springboks edged ahead for only the second time in the match when substitute flank Marcell Coetzee scored a try off a team favourite -- the driving maul.
Steyn converted, South Africa led by two points, and the crowd went silenced.
Not for long, though, as centre Marcelo Bosch took a penalty from inside his half and a high kick went between the points to give Argentina a 31-30 advantage.
But regular Springboks match-winner Steyn had the final say, keeping calm under intense pressure to slot the match-winning penalty.