South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber said on Saturday his side "have work to do" to challenge hosts France at next year's Rugby World Cup after losing 30-26 to Les Bleus in Marseille.
The Springboks played more than an hour at the Velodrome with 14-men after Pieter-Steph du Toit's red card before captain Antoine Dupont was also sent off for the home side.
Nienaber's side were beaten narrowly by Ireland last weekend and will meet them again in Pool B of the World Cup in 10 months' time.
"We're four points behind France, who are the second best team in the world and three points behind Ireland, who are the best team in the world," Nienaber told reporters.
"That's where we are.
"We will need to work extremely hard because we are playing Ireland in our pool and there's a possibility of playing France or New Zealand in the quarter-finals so there's a lot of hard work for us," he added.
Les Bleus, last season's Six Nations champions, will host next year's global tournament and are on a 12-game unbeaten run.
"I think they are very close to being favourites," Nienaber said.
"There's not a team currently in world rugby that's on that streak.
"They should be, with Ireland, as one of the favourites," he added.
Earlier on Saturday, Italy, ranked 13th in the world, stunned Australia with an impressive win with the Boks heading to Genoa next weekend.
"As you can see today with the result Italy got, there's a lot of competition," Nienaber said.
"I don't think there are big gaps in the top 10 teams in the world.
"If you get your stuff wrong you can lose to any of those top 10 teams," he added.