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Qantas Wallabies Head Coach Ewen McKenzie believes his team have “got to keep plugging away and the wheel will turn” as he came to terms with the 28-8 loss to South Africa in Cape Town early on Sunday morning AEST.
"Not a good night at all. We didn't do well enough early in the game. They got away, and we level pegged for a while. But we played without the ball for the first half of the game," he told media in Cape Town after the match.
"We were a bit more competitive in the second half, and showed a bit more character and ticker. But it is very hard chasing the scoreboard, as we had to do."
McKenzie said his team showed a lack of maturity at times but there were positive signs, especially in the impact from the bench. The second half was tied 5-all after South Africa led 23-3 at the break.
The former Reds and Waratahs mentor said the team did not adapt quickly enough to changing circumstances during the match, continuing to kick the ball when keeping it in hand may have brought more positive results.
"We didn't effectively get out of our half. We tried, and we ended up over-kicking.”
“The referee was pretty strong on penalising the defending side, which was mainly us. After 30 minutes the Springboks had only made 8 tackles, so we hadn't had much ball and the penalties were against us. So we were stuck in our half basically.”
"We didn't get the balance right. In the end you have to feel the game. You can have ideas that you like about how the game is going to pan out, but if it is not panning out you have to make adjustments."
"We talked about that mid-first half, where we were going to play and kick from, [and] that didn't quite transpire.”
"We had opportunities to attack and we were probably still a bit too conservative. In the end, as soon as we ran at them, the penalties started coming our way. We were a bit slow off the mark in making that adjustment."
McKenzie picked a younger squad with long-term development in mind, and afterwards conceded more maturity was needed.
"There's a maturity or maturing aspect that we need to develop," he said.
"We've got guys out there battling away. They're certainly playing with more character now but there are execution errors that are just keeping us under pressure. Until we sort those out it's hard work."
McKenzie also hinted he would look at selection options for the match against Argentina in Rosario next Sunday morning (AEST) with Will Genia, Matt Toomua, Benn Robinson and Ben McCalman all making a statement off the bench.
"I track repetitions of errors and if we're not getting the outcome we want we'll have to see if there's someone else that can give it," he said.
The head coach also defended flanker Michael Hooper, who was unlucky to be yellow-carded for the second time in this year’s Castrol EDGE Rugby Championship after what was ruled a dangerous tackle on South African second rower Eben Etzebeth.
"You can poorly execute but there was no malice, but it was costly in terms of putting your team under pressure. We were under enough pressure as it was."
Although frustrated at his fourth loss from five matches as Wallabies coach McKenzie did see light at the end of the tunnel.
"We hung in there grimly and the guys off the bench did a better job coming into the game, but there were other moments there where we were up in attack and we missed opportunities to put pressure on them through poor execution," he said.
"It's very frustrating at the moment but that's just where we're at at the moment, we've got to keep plugging away and the wheel will turn."