London - South Africa coach Peter de Villiers feels his side's dreams of retaining the World Cup in New Zealand next year have been given a big lift by their hard, if only half successful, campaign in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Springboks boss was upbeat and certainly not feeling deflated despite seeing his men lose 26-20 to a Barbarians side full of Wallaby and All Black stars at Twickenham on Saturday.
Defeat ended a 2010 full of turmoil on and off the field for de Villiers and his world champions, who were beaten in five of their six Tri-Nations matches and saw dreams of a first 'grand slam' in 50 years disappear with a shock 21-17 loss to Scotland last month.
But an injury-hit side could also reflect on a 21-11 win over England at Twickenham the week before they lost to the Barbarians.
De Villiers is confident the future is bright for a Springbok side he expects to peak in time for the World Cup, which gets underway in September.
"As everyone has seen over the past few weeks on this tour of the Northern Hemisphere, we have many exciting young players coming through who could certainly push for a World Cup place," de Villiers said.
"We still have ten months to go before the start in New Zealand and so much can happen between now and then. The team is still developing and, hopefully, will improve considerably between now and then.
"Our victory over England showed what this team is capable of doing when it has to. No one connected with South African rugby has ever doubted the real quality and natural skill and strength we have.
"It's just getting it altogether on the field and fulfilling the expectations," de Villiers added.
"Of course it is going to be tough defending our title but it is something we will go into 100 percent ready and excited about.
"We know just what it will take to win the biggest trophy in the sport once again," de Villiers insisted.
Juan Smith, who captained South Africa against the Barbarians in the absence of the injured John Smit and Victor Matfield, echoed his coach's confidence for a successful 2011.
"Being in the thick of it, I can see just how the team is moving on," the flanker said.
"The South African public should not be worried. We will be primed and ready come New Zealand at the end of next year.
"It was a shame we could not win our final game of this year but this was an inexperienced Springbok team, and the guys who came in will have learned so much from it."
De Villiers added: "You have to remember this Barbarians side was full of world stars, mainly from Australia and New Zealand. There's no disgrace in losing to a team of that quality at the end of a long, hard season. The boys gave it everything and we were strong at the finish so I am not too unhappy.
"We now need a long break. The guys have been through a lot this year and are naturally pretty tired."
The Barbarians' former South Africa turned Italy coach Nick Mallett said the conclusion to be drawn from the November international programme was that Europe's best were still some way off matching the Tri-Nations.
"I'm still convinced there is still a huge gap between the two hemispheres in terms of rugby ability and performances," Mallett said.
"If the guys can't knock over the Southern Hemisphere sides when they are tired and still acclimatising to conditions, clearly there is a difference.
"England played one great game. They played out of their skins to beat Australia (35-18).
"And Scotland beat South Africa because the Boks were not at their best and not ready for it. So, yes, there is still a gap."
Two tries from Wallaby wing Drew Mitchell and one apiece from James O'Connor and Quintin Geldenhuys won the day for the Barbarians, with South African's tries coming from Odwa Ndungane, Bakkies Botha and Bandise Maku.