Gold Coast (Australia) (AFP) -
South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber says his team have given themselves valuable momentum ahead of a European tour after edging the All Blacks in a Rugby Championship thriller that sent them back to world number one.
Elton Jantjies slotted a penalty after the final hooter on Saturday evening to snap a three-game losing streak and stun New Zealand 31-29.
The win, after a frenetic final five minutes in which the lead changed four times, propelled the Springboks back to the world's top ranking after the All Blacks usurped them earlier in the tournament.
Nienaber said it was a crucial victory for the world champions ahead of November Tests against Wales, Scotland and England.
'The truth of the matter is, we are not yet where we were as a team in 2019 (when they won the World Cup), not playing in 2020 has affected us,' he said late Saturday.
'But we are growing and getting back to that standard. The November tour will be another opportunity to grow as a team.'
After three straight defeats, against New Zealand and twice to Australia, South Africa changed tactics, carrying the ball far more with their relentless kicking game taking a back seat.
Coupled with their renowned physicality, it paid dividends as they recovered from a 20-14 half-time deficit to reel in New Zealand and end their tournament on a high.
Nienaber, whose team didn't play the Rugby Championship last year due to Covid restrictions, admitted it was an eye-opener to again face the All Blacks and Wallabies.
'The different playing styles and mentalities from our Sanzaar opponents makes every match a challenging one,' he said. 'Everyone brings a different risk appetite to the game.
'It is great for us to play these pressure-cooker games as it gives you good exposure to what you can expect in a Rugby World Cup. There are good learnings in there.'
Despite losing three times in Australia, they were all tight contests.
Like Saturday's nail-biter, two of them were also decided at the death which Nienaber said demonstrated how little there is between the world's top three ranked teams.
'When the top three sides in the world play each other, you expect close margins,' he said.
'We were 20 seconds away from winning in that first game against Australia and two minutes away from victory against New Zealand last weekend.
'This time around, we got the crucial points in the last play of the match, that is how tight it was.
'There was a lot of noise from the outside and some justified critical comments amongst that,' he added, referring to criticism of their three losses.
'But the players never stopped working hard, going through the processes, doing the reviews, making new plans. So I am pretty pleased for them.'