Breakdown coach Richie Gray believes the Springboks have learnt valuable lessons from their disappointing Rugby Championship campaign.
South Africa finished bottom of the Rugby Championship standings for the first time ever following thier shock defeat to Argentina in Durban, but Gray thinks the team may have learnt more from that loss than their positive performances against New Zealand and Australia.
"In the Durban game we just didn’t pitch up," commented Gray on the sidelines of the Springboks' pre-World Cup training sessions this week.
"It was an unacceptable performance But on some level you get the sense that some things are meant to be, and the hardest lesson to learn is possibly the one you think you’ve learned already.
"For me there was a massive similarity between what happened in Durban and what happened in Dublin at the start of the last end of year tour. In that game at Lansdowne Road we had come off a win against the All Blacks and there was a lot of focus and positivity around that performance. There was no excuse, we had a good training week, but on the day we just weren’t there.
"This Durban game was very similar. Have we made progress? Yes, we have. I’ve never been one to hide behind stats, but if you look at the stats in my field of expertise, the breakdown, we had the best statistics in the Championship both on attack and defence. So before the Argentina game, even though we hadn’t beaten the All Blacks, it felt like we were in a good space.
"So maybe the Kings Park defeat was the final wake-up call that we needed. It was not a great place to be that following week. There was a lot of honesty and some harsh words were said within the group. It wasn’t enjoyable, but maybe that whole experience was good for us and it feels like we have now turned it around and refocussed on the World Cup."
Backs coach Ricardo Loubscher added that the big win over the Pumas a week later showed that the team had taken the lesson onboard.
"In terms of the response in Buenos Aires it was exactly what we wanted," said Loubscher.
"We wanted to start off in the right way. We spoke among the backs and spoke about earning the right to be part of the circle, the right to play. The right to leave the jersey in a better state, and in that point of view it was nice to do that and nice to come back with a win.
"The most important thing for us out of the two Argentinean games is to make sure we adapted to the conditions on the day and the referee."