De Villiers praises Springbok progress
December 6, 2010
Peter De Villiers has hailed South Africa's progress © Getty Images
South Africa coach Peter De Villiers has hailed the past year as one of the best of his life despite his side's dismal Tri-Nations campaign.
The Springboks have returned home after ending a mixed tour with a Twickenham defeat to the Barbarians on Saturday, with the memory still fresh of their 21-17 loss to Scotland on November 20.
De Villiers' men fought back from that setback with a powerful win over England but they nevertheless finished their season with a disappointing return of eight wins from 14 Tests.
"If one looks at the scoreboard from the past year then you all have the right to be critical," he said. "The scoreboard did not look good, but it was a good year because we pulled together through adversity. I now understand each individual better. It was a very good year, one of the best of my life.
"Losing to Scotland remains very disappointing, but it shouldn't totally overshadow the progress we have made. We left a large number of senior players at home and many commentators didn't give us much chance.
"But we showed in our wins against Ireland, Wales and England that when we properly execute our game-plan we make it very hard for the opposition. We dominated England and Ireland - for the first 60 minutes - and turned around our game against Wales with some great play in the second-half. Those were hard games in sometimes difficult conditions against fresh and motivated teams."
De Villiers also reserved praise for the squad's young players, who stepped up to fill the void left by 13 injured regulars.
"We have been able to blood some new players in Test match rugby as well as give some young players an exposure to the Springbok environment that'll stand our rugby in good stead in 2011 and beyond," he said.
"The pool of capped Springboks in serious contention for selection next year has been widened by this tour, while the hidden benefit is that we have more than a dozen senior players who weren't on tour and who have had the advantage of an extended rest period."
The coach singled out Victor Matfield, who captained the tourists, and Bakkies Botha for their recent performances and also played up the improvements made at the scrum.
"I think the senior players on this tour - such as Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha - also ended the debate about whether it's time to retire the over 30s, as some people wanted to: they led and performed in great style," De Villiers said. "Our scrum has continued to improve on this tour and we held our own and had periods of dominance in a region where they take scrumming very seriously. Overall I think our first phases were very good.
"We were also able to work on the way we want to play and we're very clear on that within the group. We have South African strengths and we will play to them and when we keep hold of the ball as we plan, and execute our plans with accuracy a Springbok team is very hard to beat."
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