The pitch, said the tourists' coach, Jake White, was six or seven metres narrower than his team were used to. The loss of the fly-half Andre Pretorius after 22 minutes was disruptive. Argentina had opportunities for advancement at 13-6 and then 20-16 ahead, but were never quite good enough to capitalise.
The Springboks, bolstered in attack and defence by the admirable Juan Smith on the flank, did just enough. Bakkies Botha was a powerhouse, winning five line-outs before half time. But not until Schalk Burger replaced Solly Tyibilika did someone help Smith round the fringes.
Behind the scrum, Jaque Fourie matched Smith's physicality and commitment but there was insufficient guidance and direction from the Springbok half-backs.
The hooker and captain John Smit said: "We were really poor in the first half. But we did improve and scrummed and drove well overall." White added: "We didn't stick to the way we defended earlier in the year and slipped a few tackles. But then the first game of an end-of-year tour is always difficult here."
Argentina scored two tries in the first 26 minutes and the Boks were fortunate that Felipe Contepomi was in inconsistent form. The No 10 missed both conversions and threw away another try by hurling the ball loose after he had surged to within two yards of the South African line. But he did make an injury-time try for his brother Manuel to give Argentina a 20-16 lead at the break.
Percy Montgomery contributed 13 first-half points with a try, a conversion and two penalties. Fifty seconds into the second half Fourie swept in for a try , supporting a break by Bolla Conradie. Montgomery converted and added a penalty. Soon after, Conradie dropped a goal before Smith's late try sealed it.
It was just enough to subdue a largely disappointing Pumas team. But it might not be sufficient to tame the French in Paris in three weeks' time.
Argentina: Tries Durand, Leonelli, M Contepomi; Conversion F Contepomi; Penalties F Contepomi 2. South Africa: Tries Montgomery, Fourie, Smith; Conversions Montgomery 2; Penalties Montgomery 3, Pretorius; Drop goal Conradie.
Argentina: JM Hernandez; L Borges, F Martin Aramburu, M Contepomi, F Leonelli; F Contepomi, A Pichot (capt); R Roncero, M Ledesma, O Hasan (M Scelzo, 75), I Fernandez Lobbe, P Bouza (M Carizza, 63), JM Leguizamon (M Schusterman, 69), M Durand, G Longo.
South Africa: P Montgomery; C Jantjes, J Fourie, J de Villiers, B Habana; A Pretorius (B Russell, 22), B Conradie (M Claasens, 69); O du Randt (E Andrews, 80), J Smit (capt; H Shimange, 79) CJ van der Linde, B Botha (A van den Berg, 61), V Matfield, S Tyibilika (S Burger, 40), J Smith, J Cronje.
Referee: A Spreadbury (England).
Attendance: 28,000.Reuse content