Former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains has offered a brutal assessment on the state of South African rugby, saying the Springboks will struggle to "get close to the All Blacks" in the much-anticipated 100th test between the sides in Townsville.
Mains, who coached New Zealand in the mid '90s, believes the current Springboks side are far from the team that won the World Cup two years ago.
"South Africa are not the team we've known," Mains told Newstalk ZB's D'Arcy Waldegrave. "But I put out a warning: many South African teams that have been of lesser quality than the All Blacks have beaten them in the past. They can rise and become a very, very difficult opponent.
"Having said that, in today's rugby environment and the referees making sure that people can't slow ball down and be obstructive outside the laws of the game, mean that the All Blacks will still be able to play the style of rugby they want to play and that'll be too much for South Africa.
"This is not the same team that won the World Cup. Let's be very clear on that. They've lost a number of their players who have headed off overseas playing or retired. They're nowhere near the team they were when they played in the World Cup two years ago. And two years ago, they were playing a lot more open and expansive rugby than this team is showing us this year."
The Springboks are coming off two straight losses to the Wallabies – a team that were swept by the All Blacks fairly comfortably – dropping from the top of the World Rugby rankings as a result.
Their brand of rugby this year during those losses and their 2-1 series victory over the British and Irish Lions has also been widely criticised, with Sir Clive Woodward recently saying the Springboks are killing the sport.
Mains said one of the reasons behind the recent decline of South African rugby has been not being involved in Super Rugby.
"They're normally pretty smart at two things. One is correcting their own faults and the other one is working out a plan to nullify their opposition. One of the major problems that South African rugby faces is that over the last two seasons, they haven't been able to play in the Super Rugby competitions and because of that, their rugby has slipped back.
"New Zealand teams and Australian teams playing against each other have forced those players in New Zealand and Australia to keep moving forward and keep playing the really fast game that we like to play.
"Whereas South Africa playing against each other at home haven't had the incentive to keep the speed of their game up and develop their players and get the current players they have up to that level. And that is why they struggled against Australia and that is why they're going to struggle even more against the All Blacks."
Mains, who is well versed in South African rugby having coached the Cats (now the Lions) in 2000-01, also said the Springboks lack the personnel to keep up with the All Blacks.
"For me looking on, I say to myself, look at the wings and look at their centre, they're not very good players. I guess the players themselves don't want to take the risk by giving them too much ball. They're loose with their carries and don't cause any danger to the opposition. So that's an incentive for the inside backs not to give them too much ball.
"The fullback is fine; Willie le Roux is a very good player. But also, when you look at their front row in particular, and one or two of their loosies, they're not very fast around the ground. Duane Vermeulen is past his best. And their other flanker against Australia is normally a lock (Franco Mostert). So they've got their issues in not being able to play a fast game like New Zealand and Australia like to play."
Even if the Springboks utilise their so-called negative kicking tactics, Mains didn't see a way that the world champions could worry the All Blacks.
"Would you kick the ball to Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane and Will Jordan? Would you kick the ball to them? I damn sure wouldn't if I was coaching a team; they wouldn't be kicking the ball there that's for sure. That's simply asking for trouble.
"I really don't think they can [cause issues for the All Blacks]. They haven't got the forward pack that is capable of nullifying the All Blacks pack, slowing them down, stop their ball carriers from carrying and setting up good front-foot ball for their backs. They just don't have the players there to do that.
"To be honest, I can't see how they can get close to the All Blacks. Let me say, I'm not saying this with any glee at all. I like to see strong South African teams. For donkeys years they've given us great contests but this team for me is pretty much at rock bottom for South African rugby."
On the other hand, Mains praised Ian Foster for managing his team well and developing depth in the side.
"They looked a little bit ropy early on and that is 100 per cent understandable. And as the games have gone on, they've looked better and better. I was greatly impressed by their first half on Saturday night. Sure they weren't so good in the second half but that often happens.
"If you only had test matches once every two or three weeks, you would expect 80-minute performances every single time out of your All Black team. But when they're playing test matches week after week after week, and they suddenly realise at half time they've got a game won, wouldn't they just sort of sit back and take it a little bit easy?
"Not only is it a big strain physically on these players, but it's a huge strain mentally to get up every week. Preparing for a test is totally different to preparing for a Super game or a provincial game. It takes it out of the players; they do get burnout. I actually compliment Ian Foster for giving so many of those key players a rest. And what he found out was, the players he replaced them with are just as good almost."
The All Blacks face the Springboks in Townsville at 7.05pm on Saturday night.