All Blacks coach Graham Henry insisted the number of mistakes his side made, and not a tough schedule, was to blame for their 28-19 loss to the Springboks in Bloemfontein this morning (NZT).
The All Blacks fought their way back from 14-3 down at halftime to get within four points of the hosts before a mistake in Springbok territory led to an 80m try from centre Jaque Fourie eight minutes from full time to seal the result for South Africa.
The All Blacks had less than a week to prepare for the clash on the Highveld after last Saturday's win against Australia, however Henry was not using the draw as an excuse.
"There are no excuses. We have no complaints about the altitude or the turnaround time between the last test and this one," Henry said.
"This is a very good Springbok side. They deserve to be number one in the world."
New Zealand conceded a lot of first-half penalties and the margin of defeat could have been wider had South Africa first five-eighth Ruan Pienaar not missed four of five kicks at goal.
However, it was the frequency with which the visitors conceded possession that frustrated Henry most.
"We needed more composure and discipline and should have created more opportunities," he reflected.
"A side cannot afford to make errors when you have the ball. We lost the battle, but not the war."
Skipper Richie McCaw felt the All Blacks were getting on top at one stage in the second half thanks largely to the boot of first-five Stephen Donald, who kicked four penalties and a conversion.
"But we were forced into mistakes. There are things you just cannot afford to do in test matches," said the flanker, referring to many turnovers in the tackle and handling errors.
South Africa captain John Smit sympathised with the demanding schedule the All Blacks faced.
"It's difficult to turn around from one week to the other and play at altitude," Smit admitted.
"It was a great start by the Springboks and hopefully we can take it further."
Tighthead prop Smit was also full of praise for man-of-the-match Heinrich Brussow, who was instrumental in securing South Africa's first win over the All Blacks in Bloemfontein
"He is a phenomenal find and is making a big difference for us and also making it very difficult for the opposition," Smit said of the 23-year-old Cheetahs flanker who was playing only his fifth test.
- NZ HERALD STAFF, AFP