Durban - Heyneke Meyer was left “amazed and surprised” by Bryan Habana's pace after the veteran winger helped the Springboks begin their international season with a 44-10 victory over Italy at Kings Park, in Durban, on Saturday.
The Western Province wideman, playing in his 84th test for South Africa, scored a fine solo try and set up another for JJ Engelbrecht. The hosts outscored the tourists by five tries to one.
"I don’t know what the situation is with Bryan,” coach Meyer told the post-match press conference.
"What amazes me about Bryan is that sometimes I watch him play Super Rugby and he looks really ordinary, but then he pulls on the Bok jersey and he’s a different player.
"I thought he was awesome tonight. I was surprised to see his pace at one stage, but when Bryan plays well, the team plays well.
"He’s always played great rugby for me and I’m very thankful for that."
Adriaan Strauss and Engelbrecht both crossed the whitewash inside the first 23 minutes. The Springboks had to wait until the final quarter to close out the win after an Italian fightback saw the score cut to 23-10 with 15 minutes to play.
But man-of-the-match Habana’s sizzling speed then saw him collect a pass out wide, cut inside cleverly, shrug off some half-hearted tacklers and race in for the third try -- and his 48th for his country.
Captain Jean de Villiers and Bjorn Basson added further tries to give the scoreline a slightly flattering look.
"I thought we got loose at one stage," Meyer said.
"Italy fought back well and I wasn't surprised. They've really improved and are a quality side and they deserve to be credited.
"They’ve played against some of the best sides in the world and haven’t conceded a lot of tries."
But the Springbok boss was nonetheless pleased with the team's overall showing, particularly with many inexperienced men in the match. Willie le Roux, Jano Vermaak, Arno Botha, Jan Serfontein and Trevor Nyakane were all on debut, while Engelbrecht won just his second cap.
"It’s always tough the first game when there’s a lot of nerves," he said.
"But I really thought they played well. I thought JJ and Bjorn, who hadn’t played for some time, did well. Willie as well... and suddenly there’s a lot of pace in the backline, so I was very happy with the guys."
Most impressive for the coach, though, was the backline.
"They showed some great touches and there’s a lot for us to build on from here."
There was one major injury setback for the Boks after Vermaak picked up a hamstring injury late in the game.
"Jano’s situation isn’t good and he is probably out of the rest of the series," Meyer added.
The Blue Bulls scrumhalf has subsequently been replaced by uncapped Free State Cheetahs number nine Piet van Zyl.