Under-fire New Zealand rugby coach Ian Foster said he believed his All Blacks team took "a step up" despite losing 26-10 to South Africa in the Rugby Championship opener in Mbombela on Saturday.
Foster, under pressure after the All Blacks lost a home series against Ireland last month, said there had been encouraging aspects in the latest performance.
The loss to the Springboks was the fifth in six matches after three defeats by Ireland and another by France.
Foster has lost nine of 25 matches in charge of the three-time world champions while predecessor Steve Hansen suffered 10 defeats in 107 Tests.
An All Blacks assistant coach during the eight-year reign of Hansen, Foster was a controversial appointment ahead of Canterbury Crusaders coach Scott Robertson.
"It was a step up from our last series," said Foster. "The lineout worked well, our maul defence was good and our overall defence was pretty solid but the timing in terms of attack was a bit off."
He said a string of penalties conceded by the All Blacks in the first 20 minutes had hurt his team.
"I felt we were not getting the rub of the green in the first 20 minutes, so that put us behind a little."
He said the third quarter of the match, after the All Blacks were fortunate to trail only 10-3 at half-time, was critical.
"We had to get back into the game but all the Springboks did was carry hard and clean hard and earn a couple of penalties. Good on them, that is their game. It is a pressure game."
Foster acknowledged that the intensity of the match played in front of a passionate sell-out home crowd of 42,367 had affected some of the new players in the touring squad.
"Some of our guys who are here for the first time - that is what you have to go through and experience."
Foster said that although there was not much time before a second-round match against the Springboks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg next Saturday, he was confident of an improved performance.
"As the game unfolded, a few opportunities opened up. There were some handling errors but we made a few good strides. But we have to prove it next week."
SuperSport TV analyst and former Springbok captain and hooker John Smit said it had been a "commanding performance" by the home team.
"We won the kicking game and the error game. This is a Springbok team that knows what they do well and they stick to it."