Former coach Nick Mallett says the Boks simply cannot get any worse than they were in 2016.
During an abysmal season, the Boks suffered historic defeats against the likes of the All Blacks, Argentina, Italy and Ireland to finish the year with just a 33% win record.
The Boks also went without a win on their end-of-year tour, which included a draw against the Barbarians.
'I have never seen such a poor South African side go on tour. They were absolutely abject,' he told Planet Rugby. 'There was no leadership, and the players obviously didn’t listen or respect what the coaching staff were trying to say, because there was no passion and intensity in their play.
'There was real confusion over what style of rugby they were trying to play, whether it was territory and minimal mistakes or the new game with the ball in hand. And there were too many voices, with [Cheetahs coach] Franco Smith coming along for the tour and the third defence coach in only a few months.
'With [former captain] Adriaan Strauss saying he was going to retire at the end of the year, the team knew their leader was jumping ship. It was a sad end of year.'
The shocking run of results have left coach Allister Coetzee facing the axe after just a year in charge, and Mallett conceded that he'd be 'fortunate to keep job'.
'The financial aspects cannot be sneezed at. He did not have a performance clause in the first year of his contract, that only kicks in during the second year as I understand.
'They would have to pay him R13m to get rid of him, and that’s a lot of money from a South African perspective. For a guy to have won only 33% of his matches and he has earned R4m in that first year, and then you have to pay another R13m to get rid of him, that leaves a bad taste in the mouth doesn’t it.
'I think they will give him the chance to pick his assistants, which means there are no excuses, given Saru have admitted that appointing some of his coaches for him was a little bit unfair for a new head coach.
'But I feel that is trying to make the best of a bad job. The coaching we saw from that group and performances from the players… many Springbok coaches have lost their jobs with better results than that.'
The Boks will kick off this season with a three-match series against France in June, and Mallett said the team had to get the passion, intensity and effort back into their game.
'You have to see a South African side giving its best on the field, not lying around on the ground and taking 10 seconds to get up after each tackle and back in the game. That was heartbreaking last year.
'Just getting the effort right will improve the wins record to 50%, definitely. And if they managed to get properly coached, that can rise back up to the average of 65%. There is only one way from 33% wins, and that is up. They cannot be worse than last year, I don’t believe it.'
Photo: Mike Egerton/Getty Images