South Africa lost 23-24 in Perth against Australia and 10-14 to New Zealand in Wellington, and looked on their way to another close loss when they trailed 8-10 going into the last 10 minutes at Newlands.
But a scintillating finish saw the Springboks score three tries to complete a 28-10 victory that was flattering if one considered how they struggled in the first hour to make headway against a brave Australian team.
“You will have disappointments along the way, as in life, but the important thing is the way you respond to it. We didn’t play badly abroad, a couple of things went against us and we lost. But part of the process is working on our mistakes; the goal is the World Cup next year, but we want to see if we can improve every week.
“The way we stuck together in the last 10 minutes, we showed intent and that’s how we want to play. All 23 players put their hands up and it was probably in the top 10 of best games I’ve played in, it was a special performance,” De Villiers, who scored two of the three late tries, said.
That the Springboks were able to up the tempo at the end of the match, with the Wallabies visibly tiring, was down to the massive impact made by their bench and the squad’s improved conditioning.
“The bench were brilliant, they were able to up the tempo. Sometimes I get criticised for choosing older guys, but I think it was the right decision to go for more experience on the bench. Bakkies Botha, Schalk Burger, Bismarck du Plessis, Pat Lambie and JP Pietersen were all very good and they made an unbelievably big difference,” coach Heyneke Meyer said.
“I always put an unbelievable emphasis on fitness because you just don’t have the time with the Springboks, but we’re almost there. This result was great for the fitness because there was no way we could have come back at the end without it. The Wallabies had flown to Cape Town and we threw the ball around in the last 10 minutes and it worked.”
Outstanding eighthman Duane Vermeulen, who was the Springboks’ best player before injuring his ribs, and veteran wing Bryan Habana (blow to the head) are the two injury concerns for the Test against the All Blacks in Johannesburg this weekend.
“if we play like we did tonight – exactly how we planned, sticking to our structures in the first 60/70 minutes and then breaking them down in the last 10 – then we’ll have a good shot next week. We were close against the All Blacks in Wellington and we just didn’t get there, but we just need to make sure we prepare well and put the hard work in this week,” De Villiers said.