PRETORIA - Now it is time for the ultimate test for the Springboks when they come face-to-face with the reigning world champions the All Blacks and the team that hurt them the most in last year’s disastrous season.
And Springbok coach Allister Coetzee believes his team is ready and prepared to face their toughest challenge even though still in the infancy of their upward trajectory.
While the Springboks remain unbeaten this year after six matches, Coetzee would have left Perth for Auckland, along with his team headed, with mixed emotions after their 23-all draw against the Wallabies on Saturday.
That first half, on the slippery surface at the NIB Stadium that would not have helped the Springboks' cause considering that it was the first time this year they had to contend with such conditions, was poor from a side that had played their previous five Tests with intent and purpose.
But it would have been their come-from-behind second half showing that would have had Coetzee particularly happy and confident of an even better showing against the All Blacks in Albany on Saturday.
The manner in which the team dominated the set-piece from the scrums to the line-outs and how they also bossed proceedings at the breakdown are areas where the Springboks continue to show growth in their game and Coetzee believes that these will be essential building blocks going into this week.
“I’m pleased with the growth in the team but we haven’t achieved anything yet and we are not where we want to be and can be,” said Coetzee. "But you can’t ask for more effort from the players.
"Their physicality, being a mobile pack and being a set-piece pack, you have to understand that it takes a massive effort in terms of the conditioning to make sure that they are fresh and recovered.
"This will be our challenge this week to make sure that the players are fully recovered, do the little things off the field very well, keep looking for one percenters and we have to be fresh when we take on the All Blacks next weekend."
Coetzee has also called for a major improvement in everything that they do from their weaknesses which are still characterised by bad decision making, poor handling errors and soft moments on defence which let in crucial points, to their strengths epitomised by the hard graft the entire team puts in.
“I’m really pleased at the effort and hard work the players are putting in and the way they work for each other on the field,” Coetzee said. "If you look at the small things which are hardly coachable, that effort and intensity is there, they enjoy each other and the team environment is very healthy.
"There’s a lot of competition in the squad and from a Springbok point of view, we are making huge strides."
It will be in getting things right from their side that the Springboks will stand any chance of conquering the mighty All Blacks in their own backyard, a feat the South Africans last achieved back in 2009 under Peter de Villiers.
The Wallabies and Argentina proved that the All Blacks are not invincible, even at home, and all that the Springboks will need do is to be accurate and apply pressure throughout.
“Everything (must improve). Our mindset was completely different this time, we didn’t think about the All Blacks game while we still had to play the Wallabies. Our focus was on the Wallabies and to get over this one. Of course now it is time to focus on the next one which will be a hell of a battle," Coetzee added.
"They are still the best side in world rugby obviously but Argentina also showed that when you are accurate, apply pressure in all the areas of the game you can take them on. We have a lot of respect for both these teams (Wallabies and All Blacks), we’ve been playing year in and year out and it is always a hard game.
"I’m just pleased that our side is really growing and learning and they are taking all learning experiences on board and hopefully it will help us a lot going there (Auckland) next week."