Former Springbok wing Dean Hall says the All Blacks outfits from the early 2000s were better than the current team.
Hall, who is now 43, played 13 Tests for the Springboks in 2001-2002 before a series of knee injuries cut short his career.
He played four Tests against the All Backs and ended on the losing side each time.
"We came close a few times but they had a very good side at that stage. I would definitely say the class of 2001-2002 was stronger than the current crop of All Blacks," Hall told Sport24 in a wide-ranging interview last week.
"It all comes down to combinations and the combinations in the team from the early 2000s functioned better than some of the combinations that they have at the moment."
Hall's losing Tests against New Zealand were in Cape Town (12-3) and Auckland (26-15) in 2001 and Wellington (41-20) and Durban (30-23) in 2002.
"The All Blacks have lost of a little bit of that dream team which they had over the years. On-field, we have certainly caught up to them and the All Blacks will underestimate the Springboks at their peril when the sides clash in the Rugby Championship," Hall added.
Hall, who played his provincial rugby for the Lions and the-then Cats, said he expected the world champions to match the All Blacks when they duel later this year.
"There has always been a lot of respect between the two teams and there always will be. The Springboks instinctively step up to the big games against the All Blacks and will challenge the men in black when they tackle them in the 100th Test match between the two nations in Dunedin in September."
Hall, though, did note that he felt New Zealand’s rugby structures were a tad better than South Africa's.
"Off-field, I think the rugby structures in New Zealand are really good and they have a fantastic feeder system. I’m not saying that ours are bad but they seem to be more organised in terms of structures."