South Africa's director of rugby Rassie Erasmus believes the country has slipped further behind the world's top nations, but insists there is still time to turn the tables before next year's World Cup in Japan.
South African Rugby sacked beleaguered coach Allister Coetzee on Friday after just 11 wins in 25 tests over the last two years.
Local media reported Erasmus was now likely to lead the side, starting with a three-test series against England in June.
Erasmus, who lost out to Coetzee for the head coach role two years ago, has recently returned from a spell with Irish club Munster and is putting into place his plans to improve South African rugby.
"We've got 18 test matches before the next World Cup and around 600 days, so we have to utilise each of those days," he said at the launch of the SA Rugby Academy in Stellenbosch on Thursday, the day before Coetzee was sacked.
"We have to get to know the players and the coaches, understand what's going on, and to integrate ourselves into their systems.
"We have to catch up a bit to the other teams that are ranked one to three, but we've started the process.
"There has already been a lot of planning going on through various levels of the game and particularly with regards to the Springboks. We are ranked sixth in the world, so my immediate focus and the big ticket is to fix things as soon as possible."
Erasmus said it was right to look at players abroad who fit the SA Rugby selection criteria of having played 30 or more times for the Boks, but added locally-based talent should still receive preference.