Johannesburg – Despite their failure to beat the All Blacks this season, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer believes his side are not far off matching their greatest rivals.
The Boks have suffered just two defeats since this time last year when the 2012 Rugby Championship ended, both to the All Blacks in this year’s competition, so a return of 10 wins from 12 matches since last November shouldn’t be scoffed at.
But Meyer and Co know they need to beat New Zealand if they’re to be regarded as genuine challengers for the world number one spot. They gave it their all at Ellis Park on Saturday and even scored the four tries they needed to give themselves a chance of winning the trophy, but then, for once, they faltered in defence, allowing the visitors to score five tries themselves and go on to win the match 38-27.
“They scored five tries, and we showed we can also score tries against them, but in the end winning is the only thing that’s good enough for me,” said Meyer. “We gave everything we had on attack, and it was probably the best attacking performance I’ve been involved in,” said Meyer afterwards.
The coach added that the last 12 months had been a good period for Springbok rugby and insisted his team would get better as the 2015 World Cup approaches.
“Thinking of where we were last year to where we are now, it’s scary to think where this team can go,” said Meyer.
“If we keep working hard, in time this team will be a special one. We have produced moments of brilliance this season and several players have put up their hands. My captain (Jean de Villiers) has been awesome.”
With not much separating the teams in the first half at Ellis Park on Saturday, Liam Messam’s try on the stroke of the break – when he galloped past several Bok defenders to score his team’s third try – was ultimately the turning point in the game. The Boks had been 15-14 up after a strong showing, with two sensational tries by Bryan Habana, but lax defending and the failure to kick the ball into touch as the hooter was about to sound, let the All Blacks go into the break in the ascendancy.
“It was a crucial moment and had we not conceded that try the mindset at the break would have been different,” said Meyer. “The All Blacks took their opportunities and we were poor defensively … that was the difference.”
Indeed, if the Boks had a two-try buffer at half-time perhaps they would have approached the match differently in the final 40 minutes, but it was always going to be a big ask to deny the All Blacks the one (and fourth) try they needed in the second half.
All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw agreed that Messam’s half-time score was the clincher. “It was a critical moment. We had to dig deep out there and be mentally strong, especially as we had to play for 60 minutes with 14 men (after Messam and Ben Franks were yellow- carded). It was a short week with lots of travel (coming from Argentina) and playing at this venue, but it’s for days like today why we put on the boots, why we play the game.”
Meyer acknowledged that despite making great strides over the season, the All Blacks were a step ahead of everyone else. “We scored four tries against them … and I believe that shows we’re closing the gap on them, but we have no excuses, they were the better side.”