World Cup-winning coach Jake White believes only a fool would rate Australia favourites to beat South Africa in Sunday’s quarter-final blockbuster.
Four years on from guiding the Springboks to the Webb Ellis Cup, White says his former team have the Wallabies covered for form, experience, bench impact and fully-fit personnel.
The new Brumbies coach also believes South Africa have the game best suited to handle Wellington’s wet and wild weather conditions, and should go all the way.
Springboks skipper John Smit this week claimed Australia had the mental edge through winning their two Tri Nations Tests, while Australian bookmakers have the Wallabies slight $1.85 favourites.
But White said Smit, under selection pressure from Bismarck du Plessis, was playing mind games in order to benefit from underdog status.
“They play a lot better with the underdog tag,” he told AAP.
“They have the feeling it will bring out the best of the group.
“The reality is Australia have a lot of players who are coming back from injury and they lost a game at the World Cup already.
“Anyone who understands rugby will know the Boks must be favourites.
“They are second in the world, they have winning momentum and have got 16 or 17 players who have won a World Cup playing in the tournament knowing exactly what is expected of them.
“Experience is a massive factor. When we look at the history of World Cups it’s the teams that have been there and done that that gives you that added value.”
Australia, the youngest squad at the tournament, have yet to produce a strong 80-minute pool performance and were upset 15-6 by Ireland, while the Boks have closed out two tense affairs against Wales and Samoa and smashed Fiji and Namibia.
The inconsistent Wallabies also have been disrupted through injuries, especially to key men David Pocock, Digby Ioane and Kurtley Beale, and are less dangerous in the wet.
With New Zealand battling the loss of playmaker Dan Carter, White, controversially replaced by Peter de Villiers after the 2007 World Cup, felt the Boks were in the best shape to defend their crown.
“South Africa, as world champions, with the most experienced group of players and having 29 of their 30 players fit and available must be favourites to win all three games going home,” he said.
Adding to the pressure on de Villiers, who will name his team on Thursday morning, he is faced with a huge decision on whether to keep Smit as run-on hooker.
South African journalists are quietly predicting the colourful coach will drop a bombshell by dumping his captain in favour of in-form Bismarck du Plessis.
White indicated the timing of a decision which could potentially derail the campaign could not be worse after de Villiers kept Smit in the job all season despite his Sharks teammate’s superior form.
“I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do at the moment and I don’t want to help him make that decision,” he said. “I would like him to have this decision on his own.
“There’s no easy way out.”
If Smit is dropped, lock Victor Matfield would assume the captaincy but fellow veteran Schalk Burger on Wednesday expected the “status quo” would remain.
Burger, though, downplayed the Boks greater experience as a factor.
“If we win on Sunday it will probably be put down to ‘experience’, and if we lose it will probably come down to ‘age’ – it doesn’t matter,” he said.