South Africa's final Tri-Nations game against an under-strength New Zealand is "almost do-or-die" for the struggling world champion Springboks, says scrumhalf Fourie du Preez.
A desperate South Africa is still without a win this season ahead of its world title defence and faces a string of quality fringe All Blacks in Port Elizabeth on Saturday - the Boks' last chance for a morale-boosting victory before the World Cup.
The Springboks have never gone winless through a Tri-Nations, and defeat to the All Blacks' second-stringers would pile more embarrassment on a humbling campaign.
A South Africa without 20-odd injured frontliners was thumped in Australia and New Zealand, but when the best players were available last weekend, the most experienced Boks side ever lost to the Wallabies in Durban.
"It is true to say that things have not gone exactly to plan for us but hopefully on Saturday we can show the improvements we are looking for," said Du Preez. "We need to perform a whole lot better and get a win now.
"I'm not saying this is a do-or-die Test for us, but for the sake of doing well at the World Cup it is almost like that. It's true that beating the All Blacks on Saturday would bring back a lot of the confidence."
South Africa's search for a much-needed win has also overshadowed the final home test for two of its greatest players and mainstays of the last eight years.
World Cup-winning captain John Smit and deputy Victor Matfield will retire from internationals after rugby's showpiece in New Zealand. Du Preez is also likely to end his Boks career following the tournament.
But it's South Africa's poor form that has dominated the buildup to the home farewell for 100-test veterans Matfield and Smit. Matfield will stand in as skipper for Smit on Saturday, with the front-rower starting on the bench at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
"We need to win, and that's what we'll set out to do," said Matfield. "The winning is important for many reasons; it will give us confidence and it will bring a greater sense of belief in us from the people in this country. We have huge motivation."
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