IT was a night for back-slapping, general bonhomie and warm tributes as the Springboks ended their marathon season, and three-Test tour of Europe, by outmuscling France 19-10 in Paris late on Saturday night. Coach Heyneke Meyer was toasting every member of the squad after the Springboks broke their 16-year drought in France, but it was imposing Sharks flank Willem Alberts who was top of his pops. “Willem should not have played. His shoulder was really sore, but he put his body on the line for his country, and his team-mates, to earn the man-of-the-match award,” said Meyer in an audio link after the Test. “He had been touch and go whether he would play just hours before the game. So I was really pleased when he went out there and played the way he did. He exemplifies the drive and spirit in the side and he again underlined what a valuable player he is.” The Springboks’ physicality was a feature of the victory, as French captain Thierry Dusautoir pointed out after the match. “The Springboks were just so physically strong. They prevented us from getting anything going from the rucks and we were just unable to play and to make an impression. “That was where they won this Test,” he said. French coach Philippe Saint-André said that the All Blacks and Springboks were well ahead of the rest of the rugby-playing world. “The Springboks showed why they are ranked second in the world and we acknowledge that they and New Zealand are out in front at the moment. We are going to have to work hard on the little things that we need to do in order to close that gap,” said Saint-André. Alberts has been one of the most consistent performers on the tour, hammering the Welsh back with a series of massive hits in Cardiff and rumbling over the Scots at Murrayfield. Indeed, the Bok backrow (Alberts, Francois Louw and Duane Vermeulen) have dominated all three Tests and, in terms of physicality, cannot be matched by any loose trio in world rugby. Meyer also paid tribute to Coenie Oosthuzien, who stood up strongly to the highly-regarded French scrum in making his first start to a Test at tighthead. “He is the third tighthead in our squad [behind Jannie du Plessis and Frans Malherbe] and he was awesome under pressure.” Meyer also praised veteran lock Bakkies Botha, who came on early in the Test for the injured Eben Etzebeth. “I was criticised for picking a 34-year-old, but Bakkies produced an unbelievable performance. It shows that it is not how old you are, but how young you are.” Meyer admitted that the Springboks had not been at their best, but said he was delighted that they had ground out a win. “We didn’t get enough possession, but we were always in control of the game and we were never behind.” He would not be drawn on the two second-half South African tries that were controversially disallowed by the television match official, but said they had changed the momentum of the game and placed the Boks under pressure. “It could have been a different story,” he added, “but we did show good composure.” Springbok captain Jean de Villiers said the current team were developing into one of the strongest in South African rugby history. “We’re very happy with the last 12 months. If you take the end of the last year as well, that’s 13 wins from 15,” said De Villiers. “It makes it results-wise one of the best years South African rugby’s had in a very long time. “To really be honest, and not sound arrogant, we didn’t play well in this Test. That’s not what we wanted. But we have broken a 16-year losing sequence in France and that is important to us and to our growth as a team,” said De Villiers. “It’s six months before we play together again and when we meet together again, we hope to just keep on improving.” Meyer said the players deserved a rest after 10 months of rugby and before returning to their franchises early in January to start preparing for the 2014 Super Rugby competition. “I am very proud of these players and the country should be proud of them,” he said.