WELLINGTON – Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus had exaggeratedly suggested he could be looking for a new job if his side had lost to the All Blacks on Saturday.
Instead, a 36-34 win at the Westpac Stadium showed his team were moving the right way towards next year’s Rugby World Cup.
The former Springboks’ loose forward’s side, who had lost to Argentina and then Australia, faced an All Blacks team brimming with confidence and with an eye on wrapping up their third successive Rugby Championship title with two games to spare.
Erasmus, however, said the way his side defended on Saturday “for what felt like hours” – as they made 235 tackles to the All Blacks’ 61 – showed they could now continue with their plan to ensure they challenge for next year’s global showpiece in Japan.
“When we started planning, we thought there’s one way to come back: it’s to beat New Zealand in New Zealand,” Erasmus said after a tumultuous 2017 that saw the Springboks win just seven of their 13 Tests, which cost Allister Coetzee his job.
“That was a month ago. Then we lost those two games in a row, and you lose some belief, but we always targeted this game to say ‘we can turn things (around) and be real contenders at the World Cup’.”
Erasmus said his plan was to ensure that he had an entire squad that he could trust to implement the game plan without a drop in level or intensity next year in Japan, and he would continue to do that in their remaining 10 Tests by giving his players the opportunities to prove themselves.
While the Springboks scored five tries and defended as though their teammates’ lives depended on it, Erasmus said that sometimes a little luck could go a long way.
Erasmus said the players deserve praise for their courage on defence. They had to make more than 200 tackles: “The boys showed guts and I’m so glad for them. “We will take this win over the best team in the world and enjoy it, but we will keep our feet firmly on the ground.” pic.twitter.com/LQ6x0Jt2HY
All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett was successful with only two of his six shots at goal, while one of the Springboks’ tries, to replacement wing Cheslin Kolbe, was from an intercept.
They also chanced their arm on defence in the final minute, with Aphiwe Dyantyi forcing Damian McKenzie to knock the ball on in the tackle, allowing them to clear into touch and raise their arms in victory.
“We were very close to losing three in a row, and that puts pressure on a team and takes belief away,” he said.
HIGHLIGHTS: 2018 TRC Rd 4: New Zealand v South Africa
It was a real classic of Freedom Cup history, with the @Springboks scoring their highest ever points tally in New Zealand against @Allblacks, to win 34-36. #RugbyChampionship #NZLvRSA pic.twitter.com/06ibF4stTR
“And we could have lost this game at the last minute, it could have gone totally against us. We were a bit lucky, but very relieved.
“No one beats them here, so we’re very privileged to be one of those teams.”
SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby, Rassie Erasmus, and Springbok captain Siya Kolisi lauded the self-belief and courage of the team after the South Africans scored an epic victory over the @AllBlacks on Saturday morning (SA time) in Wellington. @MTNza @ASICS_ZA @CastleLagerSA pic.twitter.com/Qb853ZukZN