Unbeaten South Africa head for Twickenham this week in a confident frame of mind, firmly believing that not only is the post-World Cup rebuilding on track but that they are learning how to win in European conditions, despite a catalogue of injuries.
All through their Northern Hemisphere trip, Heyneke Meyer, who took over as the Springbok head coach this year, has been making it clear that he sees it as the start of the build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England. While he has had issues with details of the performances against Ireland and Scotland, whom they beat 21-10 at Murrayfield on Saturday, he has been happy with his team's calmness and ability to grind out wins.
His challenge to his troops has been to build on what went right, while absorbing the lessons from the opening two wins, and use them to propel themselves to victory against England and a whitewash of Northern Hemisphere opposition.
"There has been a huge amount of improvement in the way we play," he maintained after a ruthlessly aggressive first 50 minutes and controlled defence in the final half-hour had been enough to see his side through to victory at Murrayfield, following the win in Dublin the week before.
"This is a young team and we have to improve a hell of a lot," he added. "We are not within 20 per cent of where we want to be, but there is one game left and if we win that – well, we haven't been unbeaten for quite some time and that is our main goal.
"It was probably not the prettiest second half but that is how you win trophies and World Cups, so the guys will learn from this because we were under huge pressure. There was great defence in the second half but we still need to learn, we need to improve."
Unusually for the Springboks, who pride themselves on the strength of their set-piece, one of the key areas for Meyer to address was the scrum. While there were hardly any in the first half, the Scottish revival in the final half hour hinged on their dominance in this area and the string of free kicks and penalties that resulted.
"Every scrum was a potential penalty so they could really get into our half and play from our mistakes and play from our penalties," Meyer admitted. "I think that is what rugby is at this level. Though we made a lot of mistakes, I am still happy with the performance and the character that this team showed.
"The second half was almost like the first half against Ireland, just too many penalties. At one stage we gave away seven penalties or free kicks from scrums – just from the setting of the scrums – and if you give that number of free kicks or penalties away, then you are always going to be under pressure."
While Bath's Francois Louw received the man-of-the-match award for his dynamic back-row play, the only Springbok try-scorer was the hooker Adriaan Strauss, with two touchdowns, one as the ball-carrier at the back of a maul, while he could not believe his luck for the second as he intercepted a pass from Mike Blair, the Scottish scrum half, with nobody to stop him making the 30 yards to the line. Patrick Lambie converted the second to add to his three penalties.
That was Blair's final contribution to the game, a possible hint of the future coming when he was replaced by Henry Pyrgos, the Glasgow scrum-half, who grabbed Scotland's only try with from line out move.
Scorers: Scotland: Try: Pyrgos. Penalty: Laidlaw. South Africa: Tries: Strauss 2. Conversion: Lambie Penalties: Lambie 3
Scotland S Hogg; S Lamont, N De Luca, M Scott, T Visser; G Laidlaw, M Blair R Grant, R Ford, E Murray, R Gray, J Hamilton, K Brown, J Barclay, D Denton. Replacements: D Hall for Ford 68, G Cross for Murray 68, A Kellock for Gray 22, H Pyrgos for Blair 47, R Jackson for Laidlaw 68.
South Africa Z Kirchner; JP Pietersen, J de Jongh, J de Villiers, F Hougaard; P Lambie, R Pienaar; G Steenkamp, A Strauss, J du Plessis, E Etzebeth, J Kruger, F Louw , W Alberts, D Vermeulen. Replacements: S Brits for Strauss 76, H van der Merwe for Steenkamp 61, CJ van der Linde for du Plessis 52, F van der Merwe for Kruger 68, M Coetzee for Albe rts 53, M Steyn.
Referee G Clancy (Ireland).
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