S Africa end year on winning note in Europe
Agence France-Presse in Johannesburg
South Africa returned unbeaten from their European Tour for a climactic end to coach Heyneke Meyer's first season at the helm that saw the side jump from fourth to second in the world.
The Springboks finished the year with 12 games, seven wins, three losses and two draws. They bowed twice against world champions New Zealand and once to Australia.
Saturday's win against England clinched the Boks' victorious tour of Europe following wins over Ireland (16-12) and Scotland (21-10).
"I'm very happy with the first year. You always know it's going to be tough if you lost a lot of guys, but a reasonable start and I think we can only grow as a team from here," said Heyneke after the tour to Europe.
"We've lost three out of 12 and the great thing for me is we started at No 4 in the world and ended No 2. There's a lot of better things we can do if we keep our feet on the ground."
Already 2013 looks like the year Meyer tackles the club rugby system that leave players too exhausted to play for the national team.
"We have to manage the players better, we have to look at the systems," he said.
The team drew criticism all the same, notably from respected commentator Naas Botha. Along with former South Africa and Italy coach Nick Mallet, others likened their playing style to "watching paint dry".
Others, such as rugby columnist Archie Henderson, have bemoaned former Pretoria-based Bulls coach Meyer's fear of taking risks.
But Meyer, a self-confessed "slow starter", said he was proud of the team's progress.
"There's a lot of youngsters under 21, babies when you picked them. After a long year and a really long tour, suddenly those guys have become men, the [Eben] Etzebeths of the world, and Marcel Coetzee and Pat Lambie," he said, naming a few young players who have excelled.
He's also played down the season's 58 per cent win ratio.
"If you take the draws then it's 75 per cent. Our best seasons, 2009 and 2007, we lost more than we lost this year."