Durban — Springbok captain Siya Kolisi admitted the Rugby Championship title was lost at Ellis Park against the All Blacks, and that his team was always going to struggle to win it in Durban by beating the Pumas by 39 points.
The Boks had started the Rugby Championship in fine style by thumping the Kiwis in Nelspruit, but they inexplicably surrendered the momentum a week later when the All Blacks were there for the taking.
There was tinkering with the selections, including the crime of benching Malcolm Max after he had been magnificent at Mbombela Stadium. Also, collectively the Boks just didn’t pitch for that game and that lack of killer instinct torpedoed their championship ambitions and is a worry ahead of next year’s Cup.
Still, if they could have at least kept the score closer at Ellis Park — they lost 35-23 — a bonus point would have been invaluable, as Kolisi pointed out.
“We did everything in our power to beat the Pumas by the 39 points required, but one has to look back at our two defeats and realise those are the missing points,” Kolisi said.
“The margins of defeat in those games at Ellis Park and in Adelaide were too wide. If we had fought harder and narrowed the margin of defeat in those games, we’d be having a different conversation today.
“It was always going to be very difficult to chase down a massive score today, but the one takeaway from the game was that we’ve improved as a team.
“We’re getting better as a side and we’ve won three consecutive matches, so we need to take that momentum with us into the end-of-year tour.
“We’ll be tested by some of the best teams in the world and that will give us a fair idea of where we need to improve as a team ahead of the Cup.”
But Kolisi praised his team’s character to bounce back from a horror display in Adelaide, where classic Australian gamesmanship got under their skin.
“We had our backs against the wall, and we needed to win. Had we lost a week later in Sydney, we would’ve been out of the tournament completely,” Kolisi said.
“We had to pull together as a team, and we had also lost some big players to injury (such as flyhalf Handre Pollard), and the coaches came up with simple plans that didn’t change much of what we do.
“We came together because we needed to back each other as we knew a loss in Sydney would be the end of the road for us. We have now won three in a row and that is an important step in the right direction.”
The Boks now return to their franchise teams before heading off to Europe for a hugely challenging tour that will pit them against Ireland, France, England and Italy.