Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the Springboks’ 73-13 demolition of Argentina in the opening game of this year’s Castle Lager Rugby Championship is that they weren’t satisfied at all.
Both coach Heyneke Meyer and captain Jean de Villiers were quick to point out that there is still a lot of work to do if they are to make a significant impact in this year’s competition.
But as a first step, it would have been intensely satisfying and confirmed the upward curve that Meyer’s team has been on for the last year.
Meyer has had to contend with a barrage of criticism, often unwarranted, since he has taken over the coaching role.
He has faced criticism for his game plan and his selections, but few have been willing to let him settle into the role and begin to build a side that will be good enough to take on the rest of the world at the next World Cup.
Saturday’s big win over the Pumas was a wonderful reminder for the coaching staff that their plans can come together and now that momentum is building, they can look forward to a good week in Mendoza and another step forward in their development.
It is no secret that Meyer’s Bok side finished a way off the All Blacks last year. Even though they were No 2 in the world, the daylight between the two sides was significant last year with the All Blacks continuing their world domination.
It may be small steps, but the Boks have now won seven tests on the trot and are growing in confidence, and settling in as a side.
Meyer has always contended that the game plan’s secret is simply in its execution. As it did at the Bulls, the initial phase was slow, but once there was complete buy-in his sides accelerated at a speed which surprised many and went on to play balanced rugby, scoring loads of tries in the process.
You can see a similar move in the Boks’ upward curve. It is true they will still face bigger tests, but the initial exchanges have been impressive to say the least.
While they were solid in the November tour, and ground out good wins against England, Scotland and Ireland, the Boks weren’t that impressive on attack. They simply didn’t give the impression of a side moving forward.
Yet a closer look would see that certain boxes had been ticked by the end of the tour. The set-pieces were good, the maul was dangerous and the defensive system had clicked into place and was one of the main reasons they were able to win every game.
This year though the Boks have taken a significant step forward on attack, including confidence players such as Willie le Roux, JJ Engelbrecht and Bjorn Basson in roles that suit their playing styles.
The return to form of Morne Steyn, a pack that is growing in stature with every test and the freedom to express themselves has made this Bok team a dangerous prospect – a statistic that is confirmed by the 26 tries they have scored in their last four test matches.
Of course the next test for the Boks this week is in Mendoza. In the corresponding match last year they let themselves and their fans down.
They were poor on attack, allowed Argentina to dominate the breakdown and responded poorly in the process.
This week, brimming with confidence and with Argentina limping home, the Boks are unlikely to make the same mistake again.
The progression is an important one. Considering last year they started with three tough tests against England and then the Rugby Championship, the easier season this year has allowed them to build, allowed the coaching team to implement small changes to their game plan and allowed the players to gain both confidence and momentum in the Green and Gold.
There has been no massive change in emphasis, but rather players who are playing with more confidence and momentum and enjoyments.
And while the stats look increasingly impressive in the one-sided thrashing on Saturday, there still are things the Boks will want to work on.
Meyer admitted not being happy at letting in the try at the end of the match that put the Argentinians into double figures. That, as well as 12 turnovers in the game, will be the basis of things to work on. Better teams than the Pumas await, and these teams will be better at punishing Bok mistakes.
The Boks may be a long way off the All Blacks, but there is a sense of a plan coming together, of a team on the rise and a lot of optimism on what awaits this team in the future.
First they will need to negotiate a tough away game in Mendoza. Argentina will be better, no matter how bad they were in Johannesburg.
But then the real test begins. The Boks have never won in either Brisbane or Auckland and both tests will offer a stern assessment of where this side is at the moment.
As captain D Villiers said on Saturday night, the win would be savoured, but now that it is Monday, it will be forgotten.
The Boks have taken a step forward again, but there are tougher steps ahead.
Their response in Mendoza will determine if the curve continues upward.