Paris — Their victory over France must have felt like a shot of morphine for the under-pressure Springboks and coach Allister Coetzee, easing the pain of the devastating loss to Ireland and allowing him to fight another day.
Coetzee spoke of his palpable relief in the aftermath of their 18-17 win on Saturday. "A lot of relief‚ I’d say. I’m pleased and satisfied about the effort.
"It is also pleasing when they translate the hard work off the field onto the pitch."
Coetzee stressed the point that the team had learnt from their errant ways in Dublin the week before.
"They took the lessons. They adapted to the referee and they adapted to the conditions. And they were able to close out a tough match.
"There is something special in this team. They were prepared to work for each other."
The fact that his young team‚ which included eight players with fewer than 15 caps‚ held out in the closing minutes, speaks of their resolve on the evening.
They did that without captain Eben Etzebeth, taken off injured with about 15 minutes left.
They were especially resolute in defence as France threw the ball around with gay abandon‚ even if it at times their play resembled the frenetic movement of headless cockerels.
There weren’t many superstars at the Stade de France, but Malcolm Marx again delivered a performance of grunt and gravitas‚ Francois Venter was incisive at inside centre, and Ross Cronjé almost looked himself again under less instruction to send the ball skywards.
Coetzee did concede that there was huge room for improvement. The Boks again fell short in the kicking department where Handré Pollard’s crooked aim almost cost them the match, though Coetzee was satisfied with Pollard’s overall performance.
"Despite the poor goal-kicking … not his best at all‚ he slotted a kick that brought his confidence back‚" he said.
"With his general play, I have no problem. His goal-kicking didn’t affect his play."
Coetzee did concede that it was not a position in which the Springboks dictated the way they perhaps ought to have.
"Our flyhalves are still getting to grips with what gets the territorial battle won," he said.
"We did overplay a bit in some stages. It is a step in the right direction and I think both of them can only improve."
The Springboks crossed the Alps on Sunday in the hope of securing wins either side of the mountain range.
The Azzurri will bring a different challenge and, unlike the French who were happy to throw the ball around‚ the Italians will be typically‚ tacti-cally pragmatic.
Defeat in Italy in 2016 will still rankle with the Boks.
There remains a lot to put straight this week.
A week ago, Duane Vermeulen was not part of the Springboks’ plans on this tour but he may end up captaining them against Italy on Saturday.
Vermeulen will owe that elevated status to Etzebeth having suffered an injury on Saturday‚ while the next man in line for the armband‚ Siya Kolisi, is returning home for the birth of his next child.
The extent of Etzebeth’s injury was not clear and the Boks were opaque about the nature of the knock.