DURBAN • South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said the Springboks had let the country down during a stunning 37-25 Rugby Championship defeat by Argentina in Durban on Saturday.
"We have let our country and our supporters down today with this unacceptable performance," he told reporters after the most embarrassing loss of his four-year reign.
"What we dished up in the first half was very poor. I apologise to the nation as the buck stops with me as coach.
"There are no excuses.
"I take responsibility and will work harder to rectify this before the Rugby World Cup."
After 18 losses and a draw since the countries first met 22 years ago in Buenos Aires, the Pumas not only defeated the Springboks for the first time but also won away for the first time in the southern hemisphere competition.
Winger Juan Imhoff crossed the line twice in the opening half to help Argentina build a 27-13 half-time lead. And South Africa never recovered from his third try early in the second half.
Meyer said the Springboks' failure to win quick breakdown balls and handling errors contributed heavily to the defeat.
"We managed to secure quick ball against Australia and New Zealand despite them having two of the best openside flankers in the world," Meyer said.
"We could not manage that against Argentina tonight for a variety of reasons."
One reason was the absence of his injured first-choice loose trio, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and No. 8 Duane Vermeulen.
This meant ball-winners Heinrich Brussow and Marcell Coetzee started. But there was no ball carrier while No. 8 Schalk Burger usually plays as a flanker for the national team and his province.
It is the first time the Springboks have occupied last place in the Rugby Championship, having lost 20-24 to Australia and 20-27 to New Zealand last month.
The two-time world champions, ranked second in the world, were expected to succeed against opponents ranked only eighth.
Despite the upset loss, Meyer does not believe it will harm the Springboks' hopes of winning the World Cup in England, which starts in mid-September.
Said the 47-year-old: "We are a much better team than this.
"We will be working even harder now and I still believe we are contenders for the World Cup.
"We are getting a number of big ball carriers back soon and we will be better for that."
South Africa are in Pool B at the global showpiece, along with Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
It is a group the Springboks are expected to win comfortably.
But two former world champions, England and Australia, are potential quarter-final rivals.
Argentina host South Africa in the return match on Saturday, in the last Test for both countries before the World Cup.
"To beat the Springboks, you must be mentally strong," said their coach Daniel Hourcade.
"We won the mental battle against one of the strongest rugby nations in the world. I believe we surprised our opponents."
The Pumas are in Pool C with title-holders New Zealand, Georgia, Namibia and Tonga.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE