Wellington - South Africa's hopes of using the first two Tri-Nations matches to turn a squad of youngsters into hardened Test players able to bolster the fringes of their World Cup party lay in tatters on Saturday night after a second successive heavy defeat.
Although their performance was a step up from the bloodless effort that saw the world champions go down 39-20 to the Wallabies in Sydney last week, the All Blacks ruthlessly pounced on turnover ball and ran in six tries in a 40-7 victory.
Coach Peter de Villiers clearly felt he had been let down by some players but at least had a clearer idea of which of the inexperienced tourists might have a chance of doing a job at the World Cup.
"Obviously I'm very disappointed," he told reporters. "A Test match to me is the ultimate, you do have the opportunity to come out there and represent your country.
"There was a few positives, especially if you look at what you do have as experience.
"I think there's a few guys who did put up their hands up and there's a few who didn't so for me and for South African rugby, I think there's a lot of clarity."
On the plus side, De Villiers was encouraged by the performance of Patrick Lambie, who was listed as fullback in his first start for the Springboks but played at flyhalf with the out-of-form Morné Steyn moving back.
"I don't think Pat went too bad, I think he brought a different dimension to the game and I'm more clear on who the number 10 should be," said De Villiers.
Waiting back home are more than 20 frontline players who South Africa said were not fit enough to travel for the two Tests.
The South African Rugby Union have vigorously denied accusations in New Zealand and Australia that the players were being prepared for their World Cup defence at a training camp.
Before winning the 2007 World Cup, the South Africans sent weakened teams to play their overseas Tri-Nations Tests but on that occasion they returned home with their morale boosted by two narrow defeats.
The Springbok fans will be hoping the injured players will be deemed ready to face the All Blacks in Port Elizabeth and Wallabies in Durban over the next few weeks and restore some pride to the green and gold shirt.
"That's the biggest challenge going back on Monday, to get them all in and do those medicals again to see if they are ready," said De Villiers.
"I just hope some of them will be ready to go."
Even if many of them are fit, however, South Africa would then have to go through the adjustment to Test rugby that saw Australia beaten by Samoa and the All Blacks look rusty against Fiji in their opening games of the season, he said.
"If we make too many changes for Port Elizabeth and Durban, we might struggle the same way, so we're in a catch 22 more than we thought we would be," De Villiers said.
"We're looking forward to the medicals and take it from there. The Tri-Nations is pretty much gone for us and we move our focus to preparing for the World Cup."
Captain John Smit was equally disappointed with how the tour had gone, particularly with how the team had defended as they conceded 11 tries in two matches.
"It's the biggest factor going back home and the thing that let us down the most, and really by and large it's the turnover defence, once we've had the ball and coughed it up," he said.
"Our line that we provided just wasn't good enough. Just two quick passes and we were in trouble."
"We'll be gutted with the efforts of the last two weeks," he added. "We'll try and pull as many positives as we can out of it but at the end of the day it's winning.