Former Springboks coach Peter de Villiers is pointing to South Africa's withdrawal from Super Rugby as a contributor to the national side's fall from grace, labelling the decision "stupid".
The South African Rugby Union withdrew from the competition last year, following New Zealand's plans to proceed with a domestic tournament amid the sporting shutdown caused by Covid-19.
The South African franchises had planned to join the Pro 14 competition in Europe, but have not been able to compete since the pandemic.
Speaking to Newstalk ZB's D'Arcy Waldegrave, De Villers said the Springboks are now paying the price for not being involved in the competition.
"That was a stupid decision that somebody has made," he said. "I don't see any financial gain in that thing. I don't see any rugby specific role that gives the game the edge that we need. That was a very, very bad decision that we made.
"I think we gave up that competitive edge where we could mould players at a lower level at Super Rugby so they can be ready at the stage where they can represent their country. We have stolen from ourselves something that was very good for the game and we are paying the price."
De Villiers, who coached the Springboks from 2008-2011, also said the systems in place in South African rugby pale in comparison to New Zealand, adding that he's "worried" about the state of the game in his country.
"We tried to warn them years back that academies and those things in South Africa doesn't work. Don't copy the All Blacks the way they play, copy the All Blacks the way their structures are. The club structures in New Zealand where the coaches that are coaching there are highly skilled and understand what the purpose of preparing the players is for.
"I think that is our problem here in South Africa. At this stage, our defensive system and defensive mindset is something that is a bit worrying, especially when you look at how many passes the All Blacks make and how they keep the intensity for 80 minutes. I don't think that we will be able to stop that for 80 minutes.
"If you look at how they (South Africa) performed against the British and Irish Lions, the energy that they showed, the way they played, that to me was something that's missing at this stage.
"I don't know why they look so lethargic. I don't know why there's not that urgency to be everywhere on the field. I'm worried. I'm really worried."
De Villers knows better than most about what it takes to beat the All Blacks, having coached the Boks to a clean sweep of New Zealand in 2009 on their way to the Tri Nations title. He said the current side is far from the one he coached.
"I don't think we can match them at any level. We had a midfield with Jean de Villiers, Jaque Fourie, Adrian Jacobs, guys who could at any time be a game breaker. Then we had players around the wings like Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen, people who from nothing [could] create something.
"I don't think we have that [now]. In the pack we had natural, strong players and we used the back to bring the forwards into the game and it works for us. It's going to be tough [this Saturday]."
De Villiers also said South Africa's recent kicking strategy has been found out.
"There's no traditional style of South African rugby. There's only a style of the coaches. Kicking will always be part of the game. It was there for years. With Daniel Carter then at the world's best, you could count how many times he did kick. So kicking was always part of the game.
"But you can't build your game plan around kicking. Kicking should be a part of the game and not the game itself. In South Africa's case before the World Cup, they started this kind of game plan, and at this stage everybody else is now so happy with chasing and [going] for the 50-50 balls in the air.
"Nobody has worked on their own creative skills and if the kick doesn't work, they can't fall back on something."
The All Blacks take on the Springboks in the 100th test between the teams at 7.05pm on Saturday in Townsville.