Heyneke Meyer admitted the Springboks would have been ‘three steps backwards’ had they lost against Ireland but stressed the importance of victory in the education of his team.
The Springboks trailed 12-3 at half-time with very little evidence that they would turn it around in the manner they did. However, there was an inspired effort in the second half to seal a victory that Meyer said has significance beyond the obvious.
‘Our performance in the first half was unacceptable and I can’t tell you my words to the team. There were too many penalties, we couldn’t get going. But I’m proud of this team. At nine points down we showed a lot of character to come back. We’ve learnt a lot from tonight,’ Meyer said.
‘This means more than when we beat Australia at home scoring five tries. It was a tough week Beast was out, Gurthro failed another fitness test today, Heinke hasn’t trained with us and in the first three minutes Jannie was injured and wanted to come off. We were under the sword. It was the worst half I’ve ever seen this year.
‘I was desperate at one point. I want us to do well, especially for the supporters back home. There could have been a lot of excuses, with almost a whole team out and a lot of guys that moved on. But we don’t want to offer excuses. Losing would have been a huge setback for me and the team. It would have been three steps backwards for us.’
Meyer singled out his young players for praise, explaining that their composure and ability to execute instructions was central to the win. He added that there has been patent progress from June to this point.
‘We would have lost from this situation at the beginning of the year. What we did in the second half was special,’ he said.
Captain Jean de Villiers echoed Meyer’s sentiments. ‘It’s one thing to be selected for the Springboks but more difficult to put in a performance worthy of wearing a Springbok jersey. The first half wasn’t. The response was fantastic,’ he said.
‘In Mendoza [against Argentina] we were in the same situation but we failed to respond. I said at the beginning of the tour that we needed to take it to the next level and I think we did that tonight.’
Meyer, however, stressed that perspective is needed when assessing where they stand at present.
‘This is the type of game we needed to win. There were a lot of soft moments this year, but in the second half here there were none. But I what to make it clear that a more highly-rated Springbok team beat Ireland a couple of years back, and then lost to Scotland,’ he said.
‘We have to be humble, keep our feet on the ground and learn from here. Scotland are waiting and they’re a good team. I can tell, though, the team took a lot of confidence from this.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Dublin