Rugby World Cup 2011
Smit banking on experience
John Smit (File)
Wellington - South Africa's bid to defend their Rugby World Cup title faces its sternest test yet when they meet old Tri-Nations foes Australia in the quarter-finals on Sunday.
The way the draw was made, the Springboks ought to have been playing Ireland. But the Irish pulled off a shock 15-6 pool victory over the Wallabies to finish atop their group and avoid the mighty South Africans.
The Springboks are oozing experience and the team named to play Australia, the only other side to win the World Cup twice, is the most experienced ever, featuring 836 caps, surpassing the previous record of 815 posted against Wales in the team's opening match of this tournament.
South Africa's starting XV, skippered from hooker by John Smit, includes eight players who started the 2007 World Cup final, with a further three on the bench.
Only fullback Pat Lambie, flyhalf Morne Steyn and flanker Heinrich Brussow of the starting team were not involved in 2007, while Pierre Spies was originally selected but had to withdraw through illness.
"It's certainly quite an experienced team but that only really counts once the business is done on Sunday," said Smit.
"We have to make sure we take our experiences throughout the World Cup and pressure games and hopefully use it."
Bok coach Peter de Villiers, who is without the injured Bakkies Botha and Frans Steyn, said Australia were "pretty much the favourites" after having beaten the Springboks in their last four encounters.
"They are at the moment Tri-Nations champions. We know they are a very dangerous rugby team.
"They were, for nine or 10 months, number two on the world rankings because of the way they play the game.
"They are confrontational in their forwards and get it right for most of the game. They never, never give up.
"And then their exciting backs, if you give them a sniff or space or the ball, they will run and take you to pieces."
Australian playmaker Quade Cooper, heralded for his skill levels but quickly maligned if his daring fails, has vowed not to go into his shell come Sunday's match.
"If we part with any of our ability or confidence we have in what we do, I'm sure that will work as an advantage for the opposition," said Cooper.
"We don't want to go into our shells."
Cooper said the Springboks also had flair in their backline thanks to the likes of Bryan Habana, Lambie and Francois Hougaard.
"If they can get the ball out wide, they've got guys with a lot of ability," he said, adding, however, that the battle would be won up front.
"Physicality is the first place you've got to start. They're a very big side, very passionate.
"If we can match them physically the game will be a very tough occasion but one that hopefully we can come out on the right end of."
* Click HERE for the latest RWC odds on BET.CO.ZA