While the Springboks have progressed to No 2 in the world rankings, Heyneke Meyer has conceded that it will be some time before they catch the trend-setting All Blacks.
The Boks got close in Dunedin if you remember that 21 points went begging due to wayward goal-kicking. They were in Saturday’s match at Soccer City at half-time, and even enjoyed a 16-12 lead, until the All Blacks scored 20 unanswered points.
Meyer lamented the ‘soft moments’ that contributed to the Boks’ defeat, but was also quick to point out that this is a special All Blacks side. In Meyer’s opinion, the gap between the sides ranked No 1 and 2 in the world is bigger than most believe.
‘They were excellent tonight, they took their opportunities and once they got ahead, they began to control the game,’ said Meyer. ‘They were the much better team.
‘I thought Dan Carter was superb. He showed his experience by kicking in behind us and forcing us to counter-attack. And that led to errors, which they punished.
‘I think that’s the big difference between them and any other side in the world. If you give them half a chance, they take it.’
The Boks have finished the Rugby Championship with a record of two wins, one draw, and three losses. Nevertheless, Meyer has lifted the team from No 4 to No 2 in the world.
Meyer also feels that the team has progressed in spite of the spate of injuries and absence of many first-choice players.
‘We will never be happy with a loss, we have high standards, but we have to be realistic. There are six guys in the team who are 20 or 21 years old. We had two No 10s who haven’t played a lot of Tests, and they were up against Carter today. I believe they will be better for that experience.
‘We have a long way to go. I’m happy that we’ve gone from No 4 in the world to No 2, but there is a big difference between No 1 and No 2. If you look at where the All Blacks are, there is so much experience that even if they play badly, one or two guys can still pull them through.
‘It’s going to take a special team to beat them. Someone will need to catch them on an off-day. We thought we did in Dunedin, but then we didn’t capitalise on our opportunities.
‘Today wasn’t good enough, but I really believe there are some future greats in this team. The group believes in me and where we are going as a team.’
As dire as the injury situation is, Meyer may have even fewer players at his disposal for the end-of-year tour.
The Boks will return to their provinces for the Currie Cup next week, and the Bok coach is worried that even more of his charges will succumb to injury.
‘I can’t say that I will blood youngsters on the end-of-year tour, because there really aren’t any more youngsters left to blood,’ he said. ‘The players will go back to the Currie Cup now and that makes it difficult to plan because I don’t know who is going to be available for that tour.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg