Ian Foster says the signs were there that New Zealand (3/1 World Cup 2023 Outright) are heading in the right direction after producing their “most improved performance this year” in Saturday’s 26-10 defeat to South Africa.

On the back of the historic series defeat to Ireland, the 57-year-old saw his side suffer their fifth loss in six matches, with Kurt-Lee Arendse and Willie Le Roux crossing for the Springboks, while Handre Pollard added 16 points with the boot.

The result in Mbombela leaves the All Blacks playing catch-up in the Rugby Championship heading into their second match, also against South Africa (6/1 World Cup 2023 Outright), next Saturday in Johannesburg.

Despite the defeat, Foster said there were positives to take, with Shannon Frizzell grabbing a second-half try for the Kiwis, with defence his main focus in his post-match summation.

Saturday’s showing has induced fresh calls for the coach to step down but with him building towards next year, he feels his side are heading in the right direction.

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“I felt it was probably our most improved performance this year,” said Foster. “I felt in some areas we really shifted our game forward.

“In a game dominated by defence, we defended well, but our timing was out on the attack side and we’re going to have to have a look at that.”

Saturday’s other match saw Australia (12/1 World Cup 2023 Outright), missing captain Michael Hooper for personal reasons, beat Argentina 41-26 in Mendoza.

The Wallabies ran in five tries but their poor run with injuries as Quade Cooper was helped from the field with a suspected ruptured Achilles, a week after Samu Kerevi was ruled out for the year with a knee injury.

Despite the latest setback, coach Dave Rennie said he’d seen enough from his players over the last few weeks to believe they will continue to work their way through adversity.

Rennie said: “That’s the thing about this group, there’s a lot of character and courage and they stood up.”

Australia and Argentina resume hostilities next Saturday in San Juan.

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