The Springboks conceded 17 points in the first 15 minutes and although they edged the scoreboard in the second half (17-15), they had left too much to do to record a third match undefeated in New Zealand.
“The start wasn’t ideal for us,” said Nienaber ruefully.
“I felt we struggled to get into the game because of poor discipline – four consecutive penalties – and a lot of mistakes compounded by four or five missed tackles and against a quality side like New Zealand they will capitalise on that.
“They did that, and we played catch-up for the rest of the time. We can’t start like that with penalties and errors, probably some of them unforced and some from the pressure exerted on us, and if you’re going to play catch-up it’s going to be tough to get a foothold.
“I don’t think it’s a thing that we regularly start badly – no one goes out to have a poor start and say, ‘let’s save ourselves for the second half’. Sometimes it happens; sometimes you make a mistake or two and are on the back foot. We knew what was coming we just didn’t handle it.
“Having said that, I’m proud of the way we came back; we scored 17 points in the second half but unfortunately the damage was done in the first half.”
Nienaber said that the two opening matches of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship had served a purpose although they had not gone entirely to plan.
“The majority of the guys have had an opportunity to play,” he said.
“Our plan was to win the Rugby Championship and to assess the players and we’ve got some good answers from these two games. We’ve got one more game in the Championship and then three warm-up games to complete that process.
“Maybe there was a little bit of over-eagerness form some of the guys and some of them were short of a game – you could see the guys who came on looked a little more battle-hardened. But we’re not making excuses.
“The guys who came back from South Africa only arrived on Tuesday morning and we felt that having a couple of guys here that would be better adapted to the time zones and give us a better chance.
“We knew there were pros and cons. In 2019 a similar thing probably happened, and we had guys who weren’t exposed to Australia, and we were also chasing the game - and we scored a try and kicked the ball out to draw the game.
“The guys who came on were battle-hardened and that’s why we decided not to go the way we did in 2019 and send over a full 15 fresh guys – we wanted to mix it.”
The Springboks complete their Castle Lager Rugby Championship programme at Emirates Airline Park against Argentina on 29 July.