B plus for the Boks

'It was a rugby lesson dished out with corporal punishment: brutal and painful.'

That's the opening line in the SA Rugby Annual 2013 of the All Blacks 32-16 defeat of the Springboks at Soccer City on 6 October 2012.

A similar line could have been written 365 days later, for a game played in the same city, but just up the drag.

Despite victories against every team he's come up against, it is the World Champions who continue to thwart Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, his record against them: played 4, lost 4.

The fact that Springbok fans seemed largely happy, despite the most recent loss, speaks volumes of their progression as a team. The All Blacks were sensational at Ellis Park on Saturday night, so that appears largely to be the context of those feelings.

Personally I'm not sure we should ever be happy with a loss, no matter the quality of the opposition, nor the performance they deliver.

The Springboks have shown during this Rugby Championship that they're full value for the second spot on the IRB world rankings, the gap behind the All Blacks is deservedly sizeable.

And quite rightly too, because for all the hope and optimism shown last week, including from myself, one can't help but admire the quality of the show Steve Hansen's side put on at Ellis Park.

People seem to reach for superlatives far too easily these days but this match certainly was deserving of every one of them. If that's a sign of the rivalry to come, then sign me up.

A quick overview of the Rugby Championship saw the Springboks cruise to wins over Argentina (once), an emphatic double over the Wallabies, while in Mendoza they were yet again made to toil. And then there were those two losses to the All Blacks.

But it's the four losses from four matches record against the All Blacks that will no doubt trouble Meyer the most. While it's hard to know what would have really played out at Eden Park had Bismarck du Plessis not been red-carded, the fact remains that all four of those Springboks losses have been emphatic.

Dunedin (2012) 21-10; Johannesburg (2012) 32-16; Auckland (2013) 29-15 and Johannesburg (2013) 38-27. It makes for grim reading.

The Springboks under Meyer have played almost all of the world's top teams, having beaten Australia, England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Samoa. They have yet to face Wales and France though, two teams they play on their end-of-year tour of Europe.

Wales has only beaten the Springboks once in their history, meaning that Sam Warburton pre-match speech writes itself. While the South Africans haven't won against France in Paris since 1997, the French at home are an ominous prospect.

It's only a three-match tour, with Scotland sandwiched in between, but to return unbeaten as they were in November last year will be a big ask for his side.

So, where do the Boks stand right now, and will they, for the foreseeable future, be playing for second spot behind the All Blacks?

Well, if we take as generally accepted fact that the core of the side is strong and settled, there are still a number of selection issues and scenarios for Meyer to consider.

Remember, it's only this trip and the one in a year's time where he is able to see his side perform in Northern Hemisphere conditions on the international stage.

Looking to his squad, it is perhaps among the backs that we've seen the greatest improvement. Consider that still to return into the reckoning over time will be the likes of JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Johan Goosen and Jaco Taute.

Meyer is going to have to make some tough choices ahead that could see some players who not picked opting to take up offers abroad. Pat Lambie, anyone?

The drum is starting to wear rather thin now but the Springbok number 5 lock position is still one of concern. Flip van der Merwe, disciplinary concerns aside, performed well as he usurped Juandre Kruger, whose international star could be waning. That's also in light of the up-and-coming, but very young, Pieter-Steph du Toit who will likely make his Bok bow in some capacity on the European tour.

As for the rest of the pack it largely picks itself with, the hooker berth possibly the most fascinating. Meyer rotated Adriaan Strauss and Bismarck du Plessis during the Rugby Championship in what appeared to be a trial of sorts.

He'll most likely have to back one going forward, with the other having to be content with warming the bench.

Before the tournament start I wrote that Meyer's honeymoon was over as Bok coach. His team would have to show the necessary development in performance to press their claims of becoming the world's best team.

Optimism is rife that they've achieved their objective but anything less than two out of three victories in Europe could see him finish the year disappointed.

What are your thoughts on the Springboks of 2013 thus far? Follow Jean Smyth on Twitter