All Blacks coach Ian Foster gave the Springboks their due after the world champions had edged out the new No 1 side in the rankings 31-29 in their thrilling Rugby Championship Test on the Gold Coast on Saturday, while South African coach Jacques Nienaber was delighted with the belief his side showed and the improvement in their play.
Like the previous match between the two powerhouses, it took a penalty at the death to decide an epic encounter, but Foster was fulsome in his praise of their conquerors.
“It was a massive arm-wrestle, South Africa were superb, they came with huge attitude, carried hard and moved us around. They had a very strong third quarter and got us a bit flustered, but I was very proud with how we got back,” Foster said.
“Then we just lost a bit of discipline in the last two minutes. We just weren’t as accurate as we needed to be at one ruck and we were beaten in that moment.
“We were up against a foe whose playing style we know can suffocate you, we showed we can deal with it, but we need to deal with it for longer periods.
“We got a bit muddled in the third quarter and in the last quarter we struggled to play with ball-in-hand in their half, but we hung tough. It was a tough old game and the Springboks probably played their best game today.”
Nienaber also pointed to the result being decided by a couple of decisive moments.
“The margins between one and three in the world are so small, last weekend against New Zealand and in the first Test against Australia we lost in the last plays of the game, but this weekend fortunately we got the opportunity to win,” he said.
“We’re not at our 2019 level yet, the balance in our game was a bit better today, but we’re not there yet.
“The players never doubted, they never lost focus although there was a lot of white noise and justified criticism after the second Test against Australia.
“They never veered off what we are trying to do. But the margins are so small, one misread and you can get punished, and this week we got the last call of the game. We try to take the emotion out of it and look at ourselves objectively.”
That being said, the Springboks did manage to sheal themselves out of their shells a bit on attack, their ball-in-hand skills being highlighted by a moment of handling magic by Lukhanyo Am that led to their first try and will be celebrated everywhere in South Africa from a hut on an Eastern Cape hillside to a luxury North Coast beach house.
Replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies produced a top-class display of how to finish a game, a lovely pass helping wing Makazole Mapimpi to score, followed by a fine drop goal to go with a couple of penalties.
“We had opportunities like this against Australia and last week, closing the game and getting the result, we’ve been in that position.
“The coach encourages us to take opportunities if we see them and we just tried to stay aligned in the last five minutes when a lot happened. We showed our belief and executed our plan,” Jantjies said.