Rassie Erasmus says the Springboks are progressing very well and will be one of the top sides at the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year.
The Bok coach said his charges have learned important lessons from the bruising battles against the All Blacks and the experience will hold them in good stead.
This was Erasmus' sobering assessment as he looked back at Saturday's heartbreaking 32-30 defeat to New Zealand at Loftus that denied the South Africans back-to-back victories over the old enemy.
In the six Rugby Championship matches played under Erasmus this season‚ the Boks won three and lost as many games to finish second on the standings.
The highlight of the season for the Boks came last month in Wellington where they beat New Zealand for the first time since 2009.
“I am happy with the progression and growth we are showing because we are bonding as a team and everyone understands what their roles are‚” he said.
“We manage games better and overall as a country we are starting to believe a little bit more in this team because the fans are coming back to the stadiums.
"We felt this in Port Elizabeth where the stadium was packed and again here in Pretoria.
"For me‚ that shows growth because South African are not stupid.
"I know there will be a lot of people who will be negative after this loss but there will be those who might have seen that there is something we are working on.”
Since he took over in June‚ Erasmus has given younger players opportunities to gain experience with one eye on the World Cup next year and he is happy that some of them have established themselves in the team.
“I am proud that the talent is coming through and we are close to matching a team like New Zealand because there has been one or two points difference in the last three matches we played in Cape Town‚ Wellington and Pretoria‚" he said.
"We all have this dream that we can be the number one or two ranked team in the world and that can only happen if we start coaching‚ working hard and giving players a chance.
"That is how New Zealand does it.
"You ask why do they take this player and eventually he plays 70 Test matches.”
Erasmus said he was happy that matches between the Springboks and the All Blacks are no longer one-sided.
“I think the rivalry between us is back because we have matches where we run onto the field and you don’t know who is going to win‚" he said.
"At Newlands‚ Wellington and here in Pretoria‚ you went into the last minute of the match not knowing who was going to win and that makes us proud.
"There have been two points separating us in the last two matches.
"We play them again next season before we go to the World Cup and that gives me hope.
"It tells me that if you do a few things right and give a few more caps‚ we will have a chance at the World Cup next year.
"I have learned a lot about the players and myself as a coach.”
The Boks will have a break of about a month before they reconvene for the end of year tour to Europe where they are scheduled to take on England in London‚ France in Paris‚ Scotland in Edinburgh and Wales in Cardiff in November.