There was grace and calm in the reaction of the Springbok leadership to the defeat against the All Blacks. But there must also be honesty about many aspects of the performance.
I am sure there will be the necessary honesty within the camp and an acknowledgement within the camp that hammering Australia in Brisbane or beating England at Twickenham are victories to be celebrated, appreciated and applauded, but that they are not the victories that will determine the Springboks’ pursuit of being the best team in the world.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers, pre the Test in Auckland, was emphatic that if the Boks won in Auckland it would be the start of becoming the best team and that it would not equate to being the best team.
He said the All Blacks had that mantle, courtesy of consistent performances that has seen them lose once in the last 27 Tests and win as many away from home as they have at home.
De Villiers also said his team had shown progress since 2012 but that they still weren’t where they needed to be. He added that the Auckland Test would be a measurement of their progress as much as a Test of their pedigree, character and desire.
The match, as a spectacle, could never deliver after Bismarck du Plessis was red carded in the 43rd minute and the All Blacks had a 15-14 player advantage until the 72nd minute when two All Blacks were sin-binned and the Springboks had a 14-13 player advantage.
There has been universal condemnation of French referee Romain Poite’s officiating. He got it wrong in his first yellow card of Du Plessis. He got it right in his second yellow card. Du Plessis led with the elbow, but there wouldn’t have been a red card had he accurately interpreted Du Plessis’s tackle on Dan Carter.
Let’s park the Poite situation. He spoiled the Test, but he did not beat the Springboks.
The All Blacks won, however hollow it may be when 15 plays 14, and when both teams assess the first 40 minutes, in which the All Blacks comfortably led 17-10, New Zealand would have been the happier of the two.
Meyer would have commended his players for showing character and fight in the second half because they refused to raise the white flag in the way they kept the scoreline respectable and put themselves in a position to be a try away from a losing bonus point with the last movement of the match.
But the emotional public backlash and the backs against the wall second half fight should not be allowed to mask an opening 30 minutes that was not good enough to beat the All Blacks, especially at their spiritual home Eden Park.
The All Blacks are now unbeaten in 32 Tests at Eden Park and it’s a record to be admired. It will take a special effort from a special team to put a cap on that record and get the All Blacks to start at one again.
Eden Park is a particularly difficult place to win if you are not the All Blacks. It is the same with Ellis Park. If you aren’t the Springboks the chances are you won’t leave Ellis Park victorious.
I maintain the Springbok will beat the All Blacks at Ellis Park because of the jinx the ground is for the men in black. The New Zealanders aren’t affected by altitude, but more by attitude when it comes to playing at Ellis Park.
We’ve seen some of the best Crusaders teams in history beaten at Ellis Park by some pretty sub-standard Lions line-ups. We’ve seen some bloody good All Black teams knocked over at Ellis Park by struggling Springbok teams in crisis.
It will be good to get one over the old enemy at Ellis Park but the measurement of the Springboks is that they wanted to be talking about getting one over New Zealand in New Zealand.
That will now have to wait another 12 months.
The defence wasn’t good enough in the first 30 minutes when New Zealand struck two try-scoring blows. The decision-making wasn’t good enough and South Africa, once New Zealand, matched their physicality and stood firm in the collisions, offered nothing but a brilliant driving maul try from a lineout.
Meyer says the driving maul try felt like a momentum shift but I can’t agree. New Zealand, in the first 40 minutes, were decidedly the better team – and they did so without Richie McCaw, without Dan Carter and with fullback Israel Dagg operating on one leg.
Their tight five fronted the Boks challenge and the All Blacks, on attack, worked mismatches, especially in exposing tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis’s knack for putting himself in the wrong defensive positions.
The Springbok lineout functioned effectively without any kind of domination and the scrums were even.
I thought the Boks were better at the breakdown, but in the opening 40 Kieran Read, as an example, was colossal.
New Zealand, when it was 15 on 15, played the big points as a No 1 does and South Africa played with the enthusiasm but tentativeness of a No 2 playing a No 1.