|Adam Ashley-Cooper dives over for a try as Australia get a flying start to the Tri-Nations [GALLO/GETTY]
The Springboks' prospects of success in this year's two major tournaments looked grim as they were beaten 39-20 by Australia in their Tr-Nations opener in Sydney.
South Africa captain John Smit said the scoreline "could have been uglier" on Saturday, while coach Peter de Villiers said Smit didn't have enough leaders to support him.
The Australians scored five tries to go 39-6 up before an hour of the game had been played.
The world champions will take some solace from more than 20 of their frontline players being back in South Africa nursing injuries but they will have to up their game considerably if they are to avoid humiliation against the All Blacks next week – and if they are to defend their World Cup title in September and October.
"It was disappointing but it could have been uglier," said Smit, who scored a late consolation try to celebrate his 103rd Test cap.
"What I enjoyed about this younger side is they chased to the death. There were some tries going begging for the Wallabies, and there was a lot of guts chasing to make sure it didn't happen.
"Those are the kind of things we can draw upon. When these guys felt that when we got go-ahead ball and got control of the game and a little bit of composure, they realised how easy it can be. But they'll rue the fact that at this level turnovers can really hurt you.
"They'll pull a couple of positives out of this for sure but it's not a great result for us. We'll have to learn from this, let those guys take the experience and then be pretty harsh on Monday."
The Springboks toured with a weakened party in the 2007 Tri-Nations before going on to win the World Cup but coach De Villiers indicated once more that this was not a ruse to rest his best players.
"It's not by choice that we brought so many new guys here, I felt sorry for John at one stage," he said.
"To be the captain is one thing but to have some leadership around you, to calm down the new guys, it was non-existent today.
"I hope the lesson that they learn ...(is the difference in)... playing for your country at test level and Super 15 level is quite remarkable."
Injury problems continued to mount for De Villiers, who has called up uncapped lock Gerhard Mostert to join the touring party in Sydney after a string of injuries to second row forwards.
Johann Muller, who has played 23 tests, returns to South Africa on Sunday after failing to recover from a hamstring injury that forced him to withdraw from the team to play Australia earlier in the week.
Another lock, Flip van der Merwe, injured his ribs in the opening minute of Saturday's match and had to be taken off in the first half while Muller's replacement Alistair Hargreaves suffered an abdominal strain during the match.
That all came after Andries Bekker, who has won 24 international caps, was ruled out of the World Cup on Saturday because he requires surgery for a ruptured ankle tendon.
"It never rains but it pours, eh?" said De Villiers.
"Are there any locks left in South Africa? Then again, you have to overcome these things, that is your challenge in life and hopefully you'll be a better person in the end."
The Springboks will remain in Sydney until midweek before flying to New Zealand, where they meet the All Blacks in Wellington on Saturday.