A dejected Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer struggled to find any comfort from his side's effort in their 27-38 Rugby Championship defeat to the All Blacks at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The All Blacks confirmed their status as the number one team in the world in a high octane match, which saw the top two sides on the IRB rankings score nine tries between them.
"It was probably one of the best games I have ever been involved with but in saying that you want to win, and you want to do that in style," Meyer said after the Springboks finished second on the Rugby Championship log.
"We were going for the four tries, I thought by going for the four tries we still stayed clinical and constructive on attack. So they didn't score off our mistakes like usual it was just bad defence, but I am proud of the guys, I think we are closing the gap.
"They are a quality side, so there are no excuses because they were the better side on the night."
The Springboks came painstakingly close to bringing their Rugby Championship campaign to a fairy tale end when captain Jean de Villiers scored his team's fourth try of the match in the 57th minute.
The All Blacks' replacement Beauden Barrett, however, scored three minutes later to ensure the Rugby Championship was theirs for the keeping.
The Boks only had a victory to play for, but New Zealand added their fifth try with 15 minutes to play to take the game away from the hosts.
"It is disappointing and we just sort of stayed in the same frame of mind after we couldn't win the championship anymore," De Villiers said.
"We said to ourselves from the outset that had we won this game having not scored the four tries the feeling would have been exactly the same as what it is now.
"If you are not first you are last, we managed to score the four tries and defensively we let ourselves down."
The Springbok skipper said the players let Meyer, who instilled the belief in the side to win the title, down through their below-par defence.
"There is not too much you can say after a result like that, a lot of credit must go to our coaching staff and Heyneke particularly," De Villiers said.
"The belief was always there from him and in a way we let the coach down by our defensive efforts.
"You need to learn from that and, the fact of the matter is we played against a good team tonight, so it comes down to those moments in the game that changes the game."
New Zealand captain Richie McCaw said his team had to dig deep to pull through for the victory despite conceding two yellow cards.
"Both teams were really willing to play and because of that there was a hell of a lot of running and the ball was in play for long periods," McCaw said.
"There is little difference between these teams, and between all the teams in the Rugby Championship, you might on the day suggest who might come out on top, but they have to be off by much to become second.
"Every game I've played against South Africa, if you don't get it a 100 percent right you come second."