South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer was left visibly frustrated and annoyed his side had failed to end the All Blacks’ five-year winning streak in New Zealand.
Deep down, however, he knew the mistakes that had been made could be rectified and the youngsters in his team would only be better for their tight 14-10 defeat to the world champions in Wellington on Saturday.
Greasy conditions brought about by swirling rain in the first half did not help with the skill execution of both sides but the way in which young flyhalf Handre Pollard ran the game for the Springboks was a massive return on Meyer’s gamble to throw the 20-year-old into the cauldron.
Centre Jan Serfontein, who is 21, also defended stoutly in midfield, where the All Blacks targeted their attack on second-phase with forwards hammering away hoping to punch holes through the Springboks defence.
The visitors also tended to win the collision throughout much of the match, led by the bristling Duane Vermeulen and Marcell Coetzee, who were instrumental in slowing down the All Blacks’ ball and earning penalties that stopped their momentum.
Meyer has said openly he felt his side needed to beat the All Blacks at least once before next year’s World Cup and while they did not achieve that goal on Saturday, they had taken a big step forward in their planning for the tournament in England.
“A lot of youngsters have really put up their hands,” Meyer said. “They will develop ahead of the World Cup and I’m really happy with the depth of our squad.
“I’m really looking forward to the World Cup because we will have a lot of time together and that makes a huge difference.
“I truly believe this team is getting better and better.”
Failure to convert
The biggest factor that may have counted against the Springboks was that they did not seize their opportunities when they arose, something that prop Jannie du Plessis said was still a concern looking ahead to the World Cup.
“I would love to play them every week until we win,” he said. “We’ve been in this situation and we haven’t converted, and we haven’t taken the next step.
“It’s a bit disappointing that we don’t learn from our previous encounters because this was very similar, we had opportunities that we didn’t use.”
Another concern for the Springboks, and most other teams in the world, is the mental toughness the All Blacks have developed in recent years which was never more evident when they did not panic while under immense pressure in the final 10 minutes.
Time and again the Springboks hammered away, only for them to be stopped by a swarming goal-line defence that was probably better than that shown by the South Africans in the first half, given the game was on the line in the final few minutes.
“Those last three minutes went pretty slow especially when we got turned over in that scrum, but the leaders said ‘breathe boys, stay calm, back our defence,’ and it relaxes you, calms you down a bit,” All Blacks’ scrumhalf Aaron Smith said.
“If everyone is doing their role the best they can it’s all you can ask for in the end and we’ve always said if a team is good enough to get around us or through us so be it.
“But they won’t beat us on spirit or lack of trust, so you won’t get anyone running out of the line to try make a play, everyone is trying to stay in the system, trust your insides and trust everyone to make the right decision.” – Reuters