You know a coach is feeling the pressure when he makes 25 excuses in a dozen minutes at his post-match press conference, but you can forgive Heyneke Meyer for being frustrated as his Springbok team have faltered at the final hurdle in successive Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
The Springboks are injury-hit and they are not getting the crucial 50/50 decisions at the moment, but the bottom line is that they have shown a disappointing lack of composure when matches reach the critical final quarter.
They are an inconsistent side and perhaps the abiding feature of the Heyneke Meyer era has been the infuriating ability of his team to play both sublime and mediocre rugby in the same match.
There are, however, enough encouraging signs for Meyer to stop playing the victim and actually start spreading some positive vibes ahead of the World Cup.
There are players of top-class quality spread throughout the team – a seasoned front row and lock Lood de Jager have been outstanding against serious opposition in the last two weeks; there is a multitude of talent at loose forward; Handre Pollard is a gifted flyhalf; a thrilling midfield pairing has come to light; and Willie le Roux and Bryan Habana are a handful for any defence.
A team has seldom dominated the All Blacks in almost every facet of play as much as the Springboks did at Ellis Park last weekend and but for a lack of finishing, they would surely have claimed a second-successive win against the world champions.
That the Springboks are a serious contender for the World Cup is a certainty. With a few experienced players coming back to bolster the team, a semi-final against New Zealand is a mouth-watering prospect (although a final would obviously be better).
A one-off encounter against the All Blacks could certainly go either way judging by their last two meetings with the Springboks.
“South Africa were pretty good today and the game could’ve gone either way. They’ve developed a style of play that is difficult to counter, they have a lot of pace in an exciting backline and brutal forwards. They may be number two in the world, but there’s nothing between number one and number two, as we saw today,” New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said after the game at Ellis Park.
But for the Springboks to have a genuine shot at winning the World Cup, they have to be able to produce their best play for 80+ minutes. They also have to be clinical in taking points from whatever opportunities are presented to them.
Going the distance is the challenge for this Springbok team and perhaps the return of experienced campaigners like Willem Alberts, Duane Vermeulen and Jean de Villiers will add the extra few percentage points they need to get over the line.
“I really thought the plan worked against the All Blacks, we were brilliant at the breakdown and we wanted to play positive rugby.
“I thought we scrummed really well, we have experienced players there, and Francois Louw was superb at the breakdown, the two opensides played really well. But when Flo went off we lost a lot of experience and they started to get quick ball.
“The difference between winning and losing in the last two weeks has been a few millimetres, so we are very close. We’ve played some great rugby and scored some great tries. There are a lot of guys coming back and we need to work really hard and I think we’ll be ready for the World Cup. This team is on the go,” Meyer said.
To prove that, I am really hoping the Springboks can produce the same level of play for 80 minutes and blow Argentina away on August 8 and 15, rather than being dragged down to their level and struggling to beat them.
I really hope we will be seeing the same intent on playing a high-tempo game and putting width on the ball, because the Pumas put enormous pressure on the breakdown, slowing down play and spoiling possession.
By using offloads and putting pace on the ball, the Springboks can avoid the ruck-bottlenecks, stretch the Argentineans and hopefully register emphatic victories, like New Zealand and Australia have done against the Rugby Championship new boys.