Springbok coach Allister Coetzee says that the improved performance of the team against the All Blacks at Newlands on Saturday proved that the team was on an upward and growing as the season progressed.
The team suffered a first loss on home soil this year when they were edged 25-24 by the All Blacks, who finished the Rugby Championship undefeated and retained the title they won in 2016.
"I feel sorry for the players," Coetzee said. "They played their hearts out there and we just came up two points short. It is disappointing."
South Africa took the lead in the second half after Jean-Luc du Preez scored, but New Zealand then scored an intercept try and soon after, the Springboks conceded another three points when Damian de Allende was red-carded for a high shot. A late converted try by Michael Marx, had the Springboks trailing by one, but they ran out of time.
"Our performances this season have showed that our processes are on track," said Coetzee. "We just needed two points. We are heading in the right direction. In both matches Australia we were in it and could have won it, but did not. The 57-0 defeat in Albany was not going to define us."
The coach said the hard work was starting to pay off for the team: "The players are enjoying playing for the Springboks," he said. "They have a massive work ethic. We can fix some things, like the scrum. But working for the mate next to you; that is something you cannot coach and that makes me so proud to see how they play for each other."
Coetzee said he knew the areas that required further work: "We had them under pressure at times, but you cannot give the ball away against New Zealand. We understand what we do when we do it. We kicked well, we only had one contestable that did not work out and in the end, we were two points short."
Coetzee feels that they are building variety in their play, with tactical kicking part of the plan against New Zealand.
"There is no perfect formula in this game, we are building variety. We can play ball in hand as well. The players are getting better and better.
"For 2019 (Rugby World Cup) we need world class players. Guys like Kitshoff, Marx, Eben, they have played like world class players all year. That is what we are looking for.
"We scored a maul-try with 14 men on the field against the best team in the world, those things build belief. Compared to 2016, we have had a proper season in 2017 and have been able to plan properly. The year is not over, we still have four matches left and will continue to seek improvement in those."