Pretoria - Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus said his side’s performance in their 32-30 loss against the All Blacks was “one of the best tactical performances” as they closed their Rugby Championship campaign off.
READ: Rassie: Boks can have a 'real chance' at World Cup
The All Blacks stormed back from 30-13 down to win the game and underline their status as the world’s top team.
Erasmus said the team had grown and at no time did he feel comfortable that the Boks lead against the New Zealanders.
“I really think it was one of the best tactical performances in a while. Listen the way the All Blacks come back – we were speaking about this on the flight back from Wellington – the way they came back after losing to Ireland and then the next week they smashed Ireland in Dublin,” Erasmus said.
“We spoke about all the times they get back into the game and how we have to match them physically. I really thought we handled them tactically and physically for 72 minutes. I can talk about all the things we did wrong in the last 10 minutes, but they did a hell of a lot of things right for the last 10.
“No we didn’t (feel comfortable). They’ve shown many times – they are the No 1 team in the world and they’ve shown it many times. I remember a few years ago against Ireland they were ahead and there was a quick charge down from a conversion kick and the next one they kicked over and Ireland couldn’t beat them for 129 years. But that is the New Zealand culture, that is their spirit, that is their fightback, that is the way they do things, so I never thought we had it in the bag.”
While many people felt that the substitutions that Erasmus made played a major part in the Bok downfall in the last 20 minutes, the coach explained his decisions.
“Look, Willie (le Roux) got concussion so he went off for an HIA test and passed the concussion. I thought Damian (Willemse) really played well and did some great things when he came on. At 9 Faf was cramping, and it was at the same time as Willie, so it was two swops at the same time, which obviously is decision-making positions.
“They will learn today from what they did against the world’s best team. Vincent we subbed quite early because Frans was quite honest and said he was tired. The game’s pace was the way we had to try to catch up. New Zealand are just one of those teams that really take that step up in the first half, the last five minutes and the last seven or eight minutes in the second half.
“I thought their bench played better when they came on, not because of effort, but more of experience.”
Erasmus said that the key moments were when the Boks couldn’t put the All Blacks away.
“I wouldn’t say it was. I would say when we were in their 22 and Handre was this much short and a penalty when we wanted to go for a drop goal in the last four or five minutes. We wanted to go for a drop goal but Ardie Savea stole the ball and if it was over then we had the game in the bag.
“I will never blame the subs, because if I blame the subs then I blame myself. Because the amount of game time the subs got in the last few games. Since I’ve been involved it hasn’t always been what I’ve wanted to because of pressure and games we wanted to win. That showed tonight when they brought experience on and our boys are still learning to handle those things. It wasn’t because of a lack of effort on their side.”
Erasmus said he believed the Boks can win in Japan at the World Cup next year.
“I’ve got to be so careful to say positive things after a loss in South Africa. I don’t want to sound positive after a loss. I just really think the rivalry is back. When New Zealand and South Africa are on the field you are not sure who is winning.
“That makes us proud until the last minute, today, two weeks ago and at Newlands last year. I think there is two points in the last three games between the countries. We play once more before we play in the World Cup against each other.
“It gives me hope, if we do things right and we give more caps to guys under pressure situations, I really thing we have a chance of winning at the World Cup. I learnt a lot, not just about the players but about myself as a coach and as a management, by making some bold calls at times. I learnt a lot.”
The Boks will be off for two weeks before reassembling for the end-of-year tour.
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