Juandre Kruger of South Africa wins a lineout ball against England. Picture: Reuters/Eddie Keogh

London – Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Sunday lauded his young team’s “mental toughness”, saying they had matured greatly in the last three weeks on their northern hemisphere tour.

The Boks ended their trip to Ireland and the UK with a hard-fought and “lucky win” – according to Meyer – against England at Twickenham on Saturday, giving the Boks and Meyer their seventh win in 2012.

Powerful defensive work by the Boks, to go with a rather fortunate try by Willem Alberts and a four-from-four kicking performance by Pat Lambie, was enough to see of a fired up England.

“We would not have won this game six months ago,” said Meyer on Sunday.

“The guys have grown up and matured on this trip. Eben [Etzebeth] was a boy in June, but he is now a man,” added the coach.

“I’m big on mental toughness and that’s why I am so pleased we were able to grind out this win. The youngsters have come through brilliantly on this tour… they played for each other every week and put their bodies on the line. The spirit among them has been awesome.”

The great defensive effort was also touched on by captain Jean de Villiers, who again praised his team-mates for the commitment they had shown, as had been the case against Scotland the week before.

“We pride ourselves on our defence and I think we’re now right up there with the best in the world… if we’re not the best in the world,” he said. “Defence comes from within. It’s a commitment and an attitude and everyone has stood up in this regard on this tour.”

The Boks finished the season with seven wins, three defeats and two draws. And let’s not forget the three defeats were against New Zealand (twice) and Australia (once), with the Boks losing in Dunedin only because of poor goal-kicking.

“We started the year as the number four team in the world and we’ve finished it as number two. Considering all the injuries we’ve had and what we’ve had to go through, including having one week to get to know the guys before our first Test of the season, I’ll take the seven wins and three defeats in my first year,” said Meyer.

“It’s been a new coaching staff, many of whom only joined me the week before the first England Test in June because they were all still involved in Super Rugby, a new captain, a new team… but we’ve grown and that’s encouraging. I know we’re definitely on the right track… and I also know we must stick to the things we’re good at.”

Meyer’s team may not have won too many fans for their attacking skills, but their set-pieces – the cornerstone of every team – were outstanding, while no-one can argue against them being the best team in the world defensively.

“I don’t really care how we play, as long as we win,” said Meyer. “If we win I’m happy and hopefully South Africa can be happy, too.”

He was especially full of praise for the youngsters, men like Etzebeth, Marcell Coetzee and a few others, who continued to shine in foreign conditions. “What you lose in experience you gain in excitement. These youngsters can go a long way still.

“What impressed me over the past three weeks was how our set-phases had come on, how our kicking improved and how strong our defence had become… those are all positives and we will build on those aspects of our game next year.

“I’m really positive about the future.” – The Mercury