Springbok coach Peter de Villiers hailed his team’s last month in the United Kingdom a success.
The Boks won three from five matches, with their most emphatic result a 21-11 win against England. In the other matches they beat Ireland by two points, Wales by four points and lost to Scotland and the Barbarians by four and six points respectively.
De Villiers, in the last 18 months, has won nine out of 20 Bok matches, but in a media statement he said progress had been made in the last month.
‘Losing to Scotland remains very disappointing, but it shouldn’t totally overshadow the progress we have made,’ said De Villiers. ‘We left a large number of senior players at home and many commentators didn’t give us much chance.
‘But we showed in our wins against Ireland, Wales and England that when we properly execute our gameplan we make it very hard for the opposition.
‘We dominated England and Ireland – for the first 60 minutes – and turned around our game against Wales with some great play in the second half. Those were hard games in sometimes difficult conditions against fresh and motivated teams.’
De Villiers, the statement released on Sunday, said that there were other valuable outcomes of the tour.
‘We have been able to blood some new players in Test match rugby as well as give some young players an exposure to the Springbok environment that’ll stand our rugby in good stead in 2011 and beyond. The pool of capped Springboks in serious contention for selection next year has been widened by this tour, while the hidden benefit is that we have more than a dozen senior players who weren’t on tour and who have had the advantage of an extended rest period.
‘I think the senior players on this tour – such as Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha – also ended the debate about whether it’s time to retire the over 30s, as some people wanted to: they led and performed in great style.
‘Our scrum has continued to improve on this tour and we held our own and had periods of dominance in a region where they take scrumming very seriously. Overall I think our first phases were very good.
‘We were also able to work on the way we want to play and we’re very clear on that within the group. We have South African strengths and we will play to them and when we keep hold of the ball as we plan, and execute our plans with accuracy a Springbok team is very hard to beat.’
De Villiers added that the defeat by Scotland remained bitterly disappointing as it denied the team the opportunity to complete South Africa’s first Grand Slam in half a century.
De Villiers said that the performance of a new combination in the defeat by the Barbarians in the final match of the tour had been hampered by lack of preparation time in snow-bound England.
‘Obviously losing any match in a Springbok jersey is very disappointing and frustrating but, in the circumstances, supporters can be proud of the character and application showed by the players,’ said de Villiers.
‘The Barbarian squad had several hundred more caps than our team, which had only five players with more than ten caps to their name. We made a bad start with individual errors and by conceding several penalties.
‘But once we got back to our structures and our first phases started working we put them under pressure and outscored them, 17-7, in the last hour of the match.’
It would be worth noting the Boks scored an intercept try in the second half and their final try after the hooter and that the Baabaas, true to tradition, have to give every player at least 15 minutes game time.
It is also worth noting that 10 of the Baabaas starting XV against the Boks are not the first choice starting regulars for their country and that four of the Baabaas starting pack had not played since then end of October.
And it is worth noting that the same Australian and New Zealand backline attack that scored 22 tries against the Boks in six Tri Nations matches scored three against the Boks within 30 minutes at Twickenham.
Not that it will be noted by those who are paid to make decisions in South African rugby because 60 percent is an acceptable pass rate.