Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer admitted that while his team improved over the last six months, they are still a distant third.
Meyer, speaking after New Zealand's impressive 32-16 win over South Africa at Soweto's iconic Soccer City at the weekend, admitted there is a chasm between the world's top team and the rest.
Meyer, who saw the Boks go from fourth place in the IRB rankings (back in January) to second (before the weekend's results), said there is still "a long way to go" before his team could seriously challenge the World Cup champion Kiwis.
In fact South Africa have slipped further back, to third, in the IRB rankings as a result of the weekend's results.
The All Blacks have collected almost a full ranking point, taking them from 92.43 to 93.36, with their 16-point hammering of the Boks.
Australia, who dropped into third after SA beat them 31-8 in Pretoria, have moved back to second with their 25-19 win over Argentina in Rosario.
The Wallabies gained less than a ranking point - from 85.21 to 85.92. However, the Boks' big defeat cost them almost a full ranking point, from 85.61 to 84.68, handing second place back to the Aussies.
"We started off the year as the fourth team in the world and we were second [before the weekend], but there is still a long way to go," Meyer said after his team's defeat.
"I think there is a big difference between the first and second team, but they [New Zealand] are the world champions and they have won a whole lot of games in a row."
The Boks led 16-12 at half-time but the New Zealanders scored two second-half tries to dismantle their perennial rivals.
"At half-time I thought we were still in the game and that we played the right kind of game," Meyer said.
"But the turning point was just after half-time when we conceded a turnover against the best counter-attacking team in the world, which they scored from, and suddenly we were 19-16 behind."
The All Blacks, who have not lost a Test since they lifted the World Cup last year, are well on track to break the record for consecutive Test victories of 17 - which they share with SA.
With five matches left in the season, New Zealand could end the year with 21 consecutive victories in the bag.
The tourists showed up the Boks' defence, especially on the counter attack, and Meyer believed their short-comings were due to inexperience against possibly the most dangerous attacking backline in world rugby.
"If you look at the mistakes, it was backs on backs and they will learn from that," Meyer said.
"So we had a few inexperienced players against the best backline in the world and they will punish you if you make mistakes.
"It was not a case of the players not putting their bodies on the line because when we defended in a line we looked good, so it was soft moments."
While Meyer was disappointed with his side's third loss of the Rugby Championship campaign, he felt the team would be in a better place after the end-of-year tour to Britain where they will face Ireland, Scotland and England.
"We will be a different side after another three Tests and a Super Rugby season," he said.
"To be realistic we improved a helluva lot if you look at all the injuries and the players not available.
"It's been a tough few months, but again we started as the fourth side in the world [in January] and moved up two places [before the weekend].
"We will work harder and I will do my best to make this a championship side."