LONDON — The obituaries were already being written for the South African team at the Rugby World Cup when they lost their opening match to Japan.
That the Springboks went on to top their group and then beat Wales in the quarter-finals and come within a whisker of making the final speaks volumes for the strength of South African rugby.
But for the South African team beaten 20-18 by New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday, their efforts were all in vain with no consolation in a semi-final defeat.
“I am very proud. I don’t think any people gave us any chance. But the guys came through and the youngsters really matured,” South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said.
“But it will never be good enough if I coach South Africa to come close and not win. We had a chance and we didn’t take it.
“We should have been in the final and I will never settle for second.” The Springboks, world champions in 1995 and 2007, went into the match as underdogs and gave the tournament favourites a huge fright.
They led 12-7 at halftime and were just one kick away from winning the match but that only made the narrow defeat even more painful.
“If you lose, you lose. I don’t care if it’s one point or 50 points,” Meyer said.
“I’m proud of the effort but it’s just not good enough. We should have won this game. We had it in our hands, especially in the first half.” Although New Zealand flanker Jerome Kaino scored the only try of the first half, the Springboks went to the break leading by five points after Handre Pollard landed four penalties from as many attempts.
But the All Blacks regained the lead shortly after the re-start when replacement Beauden Barrett scored out wide and the Springboks never got their noses back in front.
“I thought we had a perfect first half, I thought we executed well, we had the right gameplan and our discipline was 100% intact and we kept hem under pressure and we built scoreboard pressure,” Meyer said.
“But in the second half, I don’t think we adapted well enough in the rainy conditions and we made a few mistakes.” South African flanker Schalk Burger, a World Cup winner in Paris eight years, was also unable to find any silver lining from reaching the semi-finals after the team’s bad start to the tournament.
“We created opportunities and there was never going to be a lot in it but we came up two points short,” he said.
“I have seen this movie before and it’s bloody horrible.
Unfortunately for us New Zealand were just a little bit better.”