SYDNEY, Australia, July 24 – New Zealand will be favourites to win the World Cup whatever happens beforehand as injury-hit South Africa put their Tri-Nations title on the line next weekend, Springboks skipper John Smit said.
World and Tri-Nations champions South Africa take on the All Blacks in Wellington next Saturday, coming off a convincing 39-20 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney on Saturday.
South Africa left 21 injured front-line players at home for their Australasian leg of the Tri-Nations, and paid the price as the rampant Wallabies posted a five tries to two victory.
It was the Springboks’ biggest loss in Australia since a similarly weakened team was crushed 49-0 in Brisbane five years ago.
But hooker Smit, South Africa’s most-capped Test captain and playing in his 103rd international, saw positives for the Springboks going forward to September’s World Cup in New Zealand.
He said Saturday’s match had not been a blow to their confidence.
“It’s more of an experience for those guys who haven’t been out on this arena and just to feel the difference in speed and physicality,” he said.
“Every game you lose is a confidence blow, I suppose, but a lot of these guys wouldn’t have experienced Test rugby yet, some of them haven’t got more than 10 Test caps — if anything it will be invaluable to those guys who haven’t been around.”
The All Blacks, who swamped Fiji 60-14 in Dunedin on Friday, will be strongly fancied to win their fourth straight Test against the Springboks next Saturday, but that doesn’t diminish South Africa’s chances of defending their World Cup crown, Smit said.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be able to take the favourites’ tag from New Zealand, no matter what happens in the Tri-Nations,” he said.
“So we have the pressure of arriving there as defending Tri-Nations champions and we have to make sure we are the best prepared as possible.
“We have three more games to go in the Tri-Nations and lots to do and lots to prepare for.”
Smit said South Africa paid for lapses in concentration and turning over the ball to the Wallabies, but will learn from the experience allied to the return of their injured big names for their home Tri-Nations Tests next month.
“What I enjoyed about our younger side was that they chased to the death,” he said.
“There were tries going begging out there for the Wallabies and there was a lot of guts chasing to make sure it didn’t happen, and they are the things we can draw upon. …
“We’ll have to learn from this, let those guys take the experience in and then be pretty harsh on Monday in terms of what we trained for three weeks but didn’t quite execute well enough today.”
Coach Peter De Villiers expects to have Paris-based lock Gerhard Mostert available for selection for the All Blacks Test as a replacement for Johann Muller, ruled out of the tour with a hamstring strain, while lock Flip van der Merwe has injured ribs.