Coach Heyneke Meyer says the Springboks let the country down during their stunning 37-25 Rugby Championship defeat to Argentina in Durban.
“We have let our country and our supporters down today with this unacceptable performance,” he said on Saturday following the most embarrassing loss of his four-year reign.
“What we dished up in the first half was very poor. I apologise to the nation as the buck stops with me as coach.
“There are no excuses. I take responsibility and will work harder to rectify this before the Rugby World Cup.”
Meyer said a South African failure to win quick breakdown ball and handling errors contributed heavily to the defeat.
“We managed to secure quick ball against Australia and New Zealand despite them having two of the best openside flankers in the world,” Meyer said.
“We could not manage that against Argentina tonight for a variety of reasons.”
One reason was the absence of his injured first-choice backrow of Willem Alberts, Francois Louw and No.8 Duane Vermeulen
This meant ball-winners Heinrich Brussow and Marcell Coetzee started, but there was no ball carrier, while No.8 Schalk Burger usually plays as a flanker for the national team and his province.
“The Pumas outplayed us. They delivered a great performance and deserved the win,” said the coach after his team finished bottom of the Championship behind Australia, New Zealand and Argentina.
It is the first time the Springboks have occupied last place having lost 24-20 to Australia and 27-20 to New Zealand last month.
“Argentina played a game that suited them, but not us. We could not adapt and, sadly, we were just not good enough.”
It was the first time the Pumas defeated the Springboks in 20 Tests spanning 22 years and the first away win for the South Americans in the revamped, four-year southern hemisphere championship.
It was also the first time they avoided finishing bottom of the Rugby Championship.
Two-time world champions South Africa are ranked second in the world and were expected to succeed against opponents ranked only eighth.
Argentina came to Durban under a cloud having been well beaten by the All Blacks and the Wallabies and faced the Springboks with a team showing 11 changes from that beaten at home by Australia.
However, Meyer does not believe the loss will harm the Springboks’ hopes of winning the World Cup in England, which starts mid September.
“This defeat does not put us back for the World Cup,” insisted the 47-year-old handler.
“We are a much better team than this.
“We will be working even harder now and I still believe we are contenders for the World Cup.”
South Africa are in Pool B at the global showpiece with Japan, Samoa, Scotland and the United States.
It is a group the Springboks are expected to win comfortably, but two former world champions, England and Australia, are potential quarter-finals rivals.
Argentina host South Africa next Saturday in the last Test for both countries before the World Cup.
The Pumas are in Pool C with title-holders New Zealand, Georgia, Namibia and Tonga.