Argentina looked on course for a first-ever win in the annual four-nation southern hemisphere competition after two quick tries and a penalty after the interval put them 28-16 up at the Padre Ernesto Martearena Stadium.
South Africa, though, bounced back to hand the Pumas a narrow defeat. Both sides scored three tries as Argentina’s forwards ensured almost total domination for their team in the first hour before South Africa’s superior fitness helped them claw their way back.
“I have said before that this Argentina team are on the up and getting better and better,” said Springboks captain Jean de Villiers.
“They must get credit for coming close today. We are just so happy to get the win.”
Winger Manuel Montero grabbed his 13th try in 15 internationals to serve notice of the home side’s potential following swift passing from the backs in the 26th minute.
A conversion from Nicolas Sanchez gave Argentina a deserved 13-6 lead only for the Springboks to go into the interval ahead albeit completely against the run of play.
Sloppy handling from the Pumas deep in South Africa’s half allowed scrumhalf Ruan Pienaar to twice kick downfield before speedy winger Bryan Habana pounced on a loose bouncing ball for a fortuitous try.
Argentina’s forwards continued to dominate in the hot conditions and high altitude of the northern city as the visitors conceded two tries in five minutes after the interval.
Replacement scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli darted over to put his side 20-16 in front before Joaquin Tuculet ended a strong run with another touchdown.
The Pumas fullback almost scored again minutes later but South Africa’s defence held firm.
The tide turned when winger Cornell Hendricks stretched over for a try that needed confirmation from television replays with 20 minutes left.
Loose forward Marcell Coetzee then dived over following a driving maul and Morne Steyn converted for South Africa to go two points ahead with 10 minutes to go.
A long-range penalty from Marcello Bosch put the Pumas back in front by a point but a ruck infringement saw Argentina give away a penalty three minutes from time which Steyn calmly slotted over.
South Africa, who have not lost to Argentina in 19 tests, are top of the Rugby Championship standings ahead of New Zealand who beat Australia earlier in the day-Reuters