Johannesburg - The Springboks began preparations on Monday for the Rugby Championship with a clear warning from coach Heyneke Meyer to underestimate opening opponents Argentina at their peril.
Meyer predicted this year's southern hemisphere championship would likely be the toughest yet, starting with the two Tests against Argentina this month.
"The biggest mistake we can make at the moment is to look past the two games against Argentina and towards New Zealand and Australia," he told reporters as the Springboks opened a week-long training camp in Johannesburg ahead of their opening match against the Pumas in Pretoria on 16 August.
"Argentina have a new coach and have caught up, they've been in camp for a month now," warned Meyer, beginning his third championship in charge of the Boks.
South Africa play Argentina at home then away before going to Australia and New Zealand in September and then hosting their two traditional Antipodean rivals culminating with the match against the All Blacks at Ellis Park on 4 October.
"I'm honest when I say this will be the toughest Rugby Championship of all the previous ones we've been involved in.
"I believe Australia had a lot of injuries last year and suddenly now they've hit form.
"They've had two teams in the (Super Rugby) playoffs and it was a tight game between them," Meyer said.
"They've also changed their game plan.
"In the first year under Ewen (McKenzie) they tried to run everything and they gave away a lot of tries through turnovers. Since then they've reverted to playing more tactically and it's been good for them.
"They've won Super Rugby as well now and they have a lot of confidence and we expect a lot of those players to start in the Rugby Championship. They are going to be very difficult opponents this year," Meyer told a news conference
Australia's Waratahs beat Crusaders of New Zealand 33-32 in the Super Rugby final on Saturday.
"New Zealand are always tough to play.
"I think it will come down to bonus points this year and that is why we need to be firing from the first game," Meyer added.
Meyer named a 30-man squad on Saturday for the Championship which he said would be a good barometer of how his side would perform at next year's World Cup hosted by England.