London - Former captain Adriaan Strauss believes the Springboks are showing the fight needed to re-establish themselves at the summit of international rugby.
The hooker retired from Test duty in 2016, a dire year for South Africa that saw them win just four out of 12 internationals and lose the other eight, with skipper Strauss's last appearance in a Springbok jersey coming while leading the side to a 27-13 defeat by Wales in Cardiff that November.
This year has seen something of an upturn in the Springboks' fortunes, with five wins from nine Tests including two draws and two defeats ahead of the upcoming November international programme.
One of those reverses, however, was a humiliating and record 57-0 loss to arch-rivals New Zealand in Albany in September.
But the fact that just a few weeks later a vastly-improved Springbok side pushed the reigning world champions desperately close, during a thrilling 25-24 defeat by the title-winning All Blacks in a return Rugby Championship fixture in Cape Town, has given Strauss cause for renewed optimism.
"To be honest with you, this year was actually a lot better," Strauss told AFP ahead of playing for the Barbarians against New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday.
"Last year was a tough year but I think it was a good wake-up call for South African rugby and the whole of South Africa," added Strauss, a veteran of 66 Tests.
"We compromised on a lot of areas and we needed a 2016 (like we had) to get a couple of things straightened out."
New Zealand and South Africa have long been regarded as the two leading teams for much of rugby union's 146-year history as an international sport.
Indeed the Springboks even had a slight edge over the All Blacks in the amateur era, winning 21 Tests and losing 18, with three draws.
But since the game turned professional following a 1995 World Cup where tournament hosts South Africa beat New Zealand in a Johannesburg final, the All Blacks have surged ahead.
They now lead the Springboks 57-35, still with three draws, in 95 Tests.
"It's not going to be overnight but we need a group of players and management with a lot of character to turn that thing around," said Strauss, speaking ahead of Thursday's announcement that saw two-time world champions South Africa drawn against New Zealand in their Japan 2019 World Cup opener.
"There's going to be a lot of challenges, like they faced this year as well," the 31-year-old front-row forward added.
"But I think the fight is there. If you look at the 57-0 loss against the All Blacks and then two weeks later they are just fighting back.
"That's what we are going to need, that fighting spirit, and I'm very positive," said Strauss, with the Springboks currently fifth in the world rankings.
Meanwhile Strauss was confident, for all the problems created an exodus of players to overseas clubs as a result of lucrative salaries abroad and a weak rand at home, that South Africa's rugby production-line remained very much intact.
"I said that at the end of 2016 as well, I know that if a couple of things go right and the right decisions get made, we've got the talent in South Africa," he insisted.
"South Africa will always be a force."
Saturday's clash between the Barbarians and New Zealand at Twickenham is scheduled for 17:00 (SA time).
15 George Bridge (Crusaders), 14 Julian Savea (Hurricanes & New Zealand), 13 Richard Buckman (Highlanders), 12 Harold Vorster (Lions), 11
Vince Aso (Hurricanes), 10 Richie Mo'unga (Crusaders), 9 Andy Ellis
(Kobelco Steelers & New Zealand, captain), 8 Luke Whitelock
(Highlanders & New Zealand, vice captain), 7 Kwagga Smith (Lions), 6
Steven Luatua (Bristol & New Zealand), 5 Dominic Bird (Chiefs &
New Zealand), 4 Sam Carter (Brumbies & Australia), 3 Atu Moli
(Chiefs), 2 Adriaan Strauss (Bulls & South Africa), 1 Jacques van Rooyen (Lions)
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der Merwe (Sharks),17 Ben Franks (London Irish & New Zealand), 18 Ruan Smith (Toyota Verblitz), 19 Willie Britz (Sunwolves), 20 Ruan Ackermann (Gloucester), 21 Mitchell Drummond (Crusaders), 22 Robert du Preez (Stormers), 23 Dillon Hunt (Highlanders)
David Havili, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Ngani
Laumape, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Beauden Barrett (captain), 9 TJ
Perenara, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Scott Barrett,
4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 19 Patrick
Tuipulotu, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Matt