Rassie Erasmus says he is reticent to say there were positives after a defeat, but the Springbok coach believes his team have significantly narrowed the gap on the All Blacks following their heartbreaking, last-minute 32-30 loss to New Zealand at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday.
“I have to be so careful about saying there are positive things after a loss, but I really believe the rivalry between us and the All Blacks is back; nobody is sure who is going to win before the game. There’s just been a couple of points between the teams in the last three games, so that gives me hope and I’ve really learned a lot.
“I’m definitely happy with the progress and growth; the players are starting to understand their roles and starting to believe in themselves a bit more. The fans are coming back into the stadium and we want rugby to stay a big thing and I really felt that today. South African supporters are not stupid and they can see there is something to build on. It’s nice to grow and be real contenders,” Erasmus said after the Rugby Championship thriller in front of more than 50,000 spectators.
While the Springboks delivered a tactical masterclass in dominating territory for long periods against the All Blacks, Erasmus having sensibly focused on the Springbok strengths of physicality and defence, he’ll have a few regrets over how he used his bench on Saturday evening. Although, as he explained, his hand was forced to a certain extent.
With a 12-point lead and just eight minutes remaining, three of the Springboks’ most influential players – fullback Willie le Roux, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and hooker Malcolm Marx – were off the field, replaced by Damian Willemse, Embrose Papier and Bongi Mbonambi, who have 28 caps between them.
“I didn’t feel the game was won. The All Blacks have shown many times, when they are down and out, that New Zealand culture and spirit to fight back. I was never comfortable, but people do always ask when we are going to give the bench a chance. Willie was concussed and did not pass his test and Faf had cramp.
“So it was the two of them at the same time and in big decision-making positions. But the guys who came on would have learned so much; Damian played really well and did some brilliant things. I will never blame the subs. If that was the problem then I blame myself because the amount of game-time I’ve given them has not been as I wished, but there’ve been pressure situations and we’ve wanted to win,” Erasmus said.