Rassie Erasmus, South Africa’s Director of Rugby, said that such intense and competitive encounters between well-matched teams came down to small margins, with the difference on this occasion determined by goalkicking.
“When number one in the world plays number two, the game is going to be decided by a margin of one of two or three points played in a really intense Test match atmosphere,” he said, “and I don’t think they converted more chances than we did – they just kicked two more penalties than us.
“A good team like Ireland, New Zealand or France are going to keep you out – like we did to Ireland – so converting chances is not easy. They scored one try and we scored one try; it was clear that our problem was that we didn’t convert our goal kicks.”
However, Erasmus said it would be unfair to expect miracles from recalled flyhalf Handre Pollard, who was called into the squad on Monday following injury to hooker Malcolm Marx.
The 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning flyhalf only returned to the playing field as a replacement for his English club Leicester on Friday, after four and a half months on the sidelines with a calf injury.
“Everyone must keep it in perspective,” said Erasmus. “Handre Pollard is not superman and can’t come back as fully ready after playing only 30 minutes of rugby since his injury.
“He can’t just come onto the field to kick goals, he must also be able to sidestep, hand-off, make tackles, clean out at the ruck and that’s obviously not the case now because he has only had a full week’s training with us.
“That’s why he wasn’t up for selection for the squad in the first place, but he is definitely up for selection this week.
“Let’s give Handre a chance to find his rhythm and see how he does with the other stuff. Tonga will be a great yardstick to see how he goes.”
Meanwhile, Erasmus said he was happy with the play of Manie Libbok, the Boks’ first choice flyhalf and goalkicker in 2023.
“Manie is definitely playing brilliant flyhalf rugby at this stage but obviously his goalkicking isn’t matching that,” said Erasmus.
“If you weigh up the different things he does, he makes a great contribution to the team, but he is in a bit of a dip with his goalkicking – he knows it, we know it and the world knows it.”
Erasmus celebrated the nature of the match against Ireland, in particular congratulating his players for ensuring their tackle technique was of the highest standard to avoid the issuing of red or yellow cards.
“For the third match now, we have not had any disciplinary issues and it was such a nice thing to have a game where there was nothing referred to the bunker,” he said.
“That’s what we want from Tier One nations playing against each other – no penalties for foul play and played in a great spirit by both teams, well handled by the match officials and the people in the bunker.”
The Springboks will return to field training on Tuesday after a day of recovery from a bruising encounter.