Instead, their 38-21 victory at a packed Hollywoodbets Kings Park in Durban saw them finish second in the tournament, but doing the double over the Pumas and wins against both New Zealand and Australia represented progress, said Nienaber.
“We had a plan to go full on to win the Championship,” he said.
“We were on task up to minute 35 and then they got a penalty and the score before half time changed the dynamics.
“I think we can’t fault the effort from the players. We all sat down and bought into giving it as good a shot as we could – unfortunately we came up short, but you must never take a win in the Bok jersey for granted and we won’t. It’s special.”
The 17-point victory followed back-to-back 16-point victories with Nienaber thanking South African supporters: “I am just glad that we could repay the fans. They’re probably the heroes of the Rugby Championship in my opinion – we had three sell-out crowds, and we lost the one in Johannesburg but I thought we gave it as big a crack as we could in the other two.”
Kolisi said: “We had some great, great moment in the Rugby Championship, and we also had some weak moments. We were looking for consistency.
“We know we can win against anyone in the world on our day, but today was a big step forward because it was a third win in a row and we want to take that momentum with us into the end-of-year tour,” added the Bok captain.
Nienaber noted that he had used 34 players in the tournament and that some questions had been answered over position depth.
“We built some squad depth. Some players got some experience but that wasn’t the main aim – which was to win the Rugby Championship and we fell short on that. But there were some positives to take out of it,” he said.
“We are in a better position now in terms of learning about certain positions than we were when we started. There was always this big issue around flyhalf and whether Damian (Willemse) could play there and hats off to Frans (Steyn) today, in a very short space of time he had to slot in and he will just get better in terms of that.
“We’ve also had Kurt-Lee (Arendse) and Canan (Moodie) come through and now Cheslin (Kolbe) has to perform if he wants to get back in – but we know he is quality, and we look forward to welcoming him back.”
The Boks are next in action against Ireland, the No 1 ranked team in the world, in Dublin in November when Nienaber said they would have an even better idea of the team’s progress.
“We’re not where we want to be yet. As Siya said we need consistency, and we’ll probably get a pretty good idea on our end-of-year tour. We play No 1 and No 2 [France] teams in the world and we have an SA A side, and it will be a challenging tour. But it will give us nice answers as to where we are.”