THE aim within the Springbok squad was to win three matches on tour and show the defensive qualities that win World Cup finals. On the surface then, the tour will be viewed as a major success.
The Boks won all three Tests and conceded just one try. Once again they looked impotent with the ball in hand, but this seemed a secondary concern for the coach, captain and squad. They left London as winners.
Only, to win the World Cup in 2015 and win the Rugby Championship in between, the Boks will need greater innovation on attack and a shift in mind-set that recognises the need for more balance between attack and defence, and the need for some home truths.
Ireland, Scotland and England are not the measurement of world rugby, and to be the best South Africa have to usurp New Zealand, who currently are playing the game at a pace never seen before, and with a balance in attack and defence that is the envy of every other international team.
The All Blacks leak more tries than the Boks, but they also score more. The All Blacks on their most recent tour have exposed more youngsters to Test rugby, evolved their depth in most positions and still won convincingly. The Boks, in three Tests, picked the best available every time, and some in the squad never got a minute’s game time. Each to their own, but to deny the flaws in Bok rugby at present would be to deny the obvious.
Defence has always been a strength of good Bok teams, but then so has attack. This team currently has no attack and that has to be the focus next year. If not, the Boks will again be a tenacious opponent applauded for character. They will not be the kind of opponent feared because of enterprise.
The Boks never looked like losing at Twickenham against a home side even more inept when it comes to attack. England will always be physical, always be determined and always be a difficult opponent at Twickenham.
The margin of victory was only a point but it may well have been 20. England, with 60% territory and 60% possession, never had the capacity to unlock the Bok defence. Again, they are not the measurement.
The more accurate match to reflect on has to be the All Blacks dismantling of the Boks at the FNB Stadium a few months ago. The All Blacks scored four tries within 50 minutes and asked questions of the Bok defence to which South Africa had no answer.
If the aim is to be a top-three team with the occasional win against the best, then you can’t fault Heyneke Meyer and his Boks this year. If this crop of Boks do have greater ambition, then there has to be greater introspection about an inability to turn dominant periods of play into tries.
If you want to attack the limitations of the Boks in 2012, there is enough to make a convincing argument. If you want to make a case for bravery, commitment and a season that was reasonably successful, you would also find enough for a winning argument.
It all comes down to the interpretation of ambition.
As I write every week, there will always be hope in and for South African rugby, because of good playing numbers. But to set a standard is to take a risk, and in Meyer’s first season there have been few risks taken.
That has to change if the Boks are to be seeded second, with the capacity of being first, or to be second among a group with no prize of toppling the All Blacks.
Meyer will have an easier summer break because of the three tour wins, but I sincerely hope he also has an introspective one. There has to be honesty about the season, which was acceptable without being exceptional.
This squad are being characterised on their ability to defend, but there is just too much defensive in everything about this team, be it in performance or when questioned on performance. Injury to players is presented as a defence to any question that is interpreted as criticism, but only 15 players get to start, and in many positions those currently playing would again be selected — ahead of unavailable players of more experience.
Naturally, the Bok team at Twickenham would be strengthened when Frans Steyn, Bryan Habana and Johan Goosen are again available, and there would be more depth to the forwards when Bismarck du Plessis, Andries Bekker, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies and Juan Smith are fully fit.
But the core of what constitutes the best team was at Twickenham, and for this best team to mature into a team capable of being the best in the world, there has to be greater cross-examination and less defensiveness about the obvious shortcomings of the year.