The Springboks headed to Cape Town on Sunday to prepare for a rematch with the All Blacks still searching for answers after a 27-27 draw against Australia.
Players and the management described the highveld stalemate on Saturday as feeling like a loss. They knew this was one that got away. Playing at home and at high altitude should have been decisive factors to get the Boks over the line against a rebuilding Australian team that was inferior to many previous Wallaby teams in SA.
Over the previous five years, the Boks had beaten the Wallabies at home four times by an average score of 26-9 with the visitors not scoring more than 10 points in a game.
Coming off a 57-0 loss to the All Blacks in Albany two weeks ago, the performance in Bloemfontein was a step in the right direction. But the Wallabies are not the All Blacks.
Bok coach Allister Coetzee does not have many options that will improve the side.
Scrumhalf Ross Cronjé’s ability to be alive to sniping opportunities was good against the Wallabies, but his service was ponderous at times. Francois Louw was not as effective at the breakdown as hoped and Pieter-Steph du Toit’s strong ball-carrying caught the eye when the former was withdrawn. Wing Dillyn Leyds was lively in his first start, but despite having so much ball, the backline played too laterally at times. Fullback Andries Coetzee’s tactical kicking was substandard.
The Bok coach, though, does not have many options to turn to, and even if he could, making wholesale changes now would be counterproductive.
The current squad will have to do their best to live with the All Blacks on Saturday. Despite the disappointing outcome against the Wallabies, Coetzee continued to talk about "positives" and "growth". He is nothing if not an optimist.
"When you draw at home, it actually feels like a loss, but I’m very proud of this team and the effort," Coetzee said.
"After a tough two weeks, it just shows the character of the side, and that was tested. It’s been an emotional week and we spoke of turning it around. Although the Wallabies got off to a fast start and scored first, we got stuck in.
"We created a lot of opportunities and that to me alone is a massive positive.
"Yes, we left a lot of opportunities out there, but with the processes we’re busy with, this team can feel that at one stage they were the better team out there," he said.
"I know we have to win, but we are taking steps in the right direction," Coetzee said.
Coetzee, who is under huge pressure following the Albany defeat and on the back of a poor first season in charge, is also enough of a realist to know that the All Blacks challenge at Newlands is daunting.
"Now we can focus on next week," Coetzee said. "We’ll be playing against a really good All Blacks side.
"But it’s just been a few months since this team has got together, so to think that we can just go and topple the All Blacks easily would be living in a fool’s paradise," he said.
"We have to look at the strides we’re taking and build on what we have. We are still hurting from the previous result against New Zealand, but we will prepare as well as we can, and we will be ready for them at Newlands," Coetzee said.