Bryan Habana (Gallo Images)
Bagshot - Bryan Habana believes the fact that South Africa have effectively being playing knockout rugby for most of the Rugby World Cup will stand them in good stead when they face Wales in the quarter-finals at Twickenham on Saturday.
Two-time world champions South Africa suffered a stunning 34-32 defeat by Japan in their opening group match - one of the all-time great sporting upsets - but bounced back with three straight wins, including last week's 64-0 thrashing of the United States, to finish top of Pool B.
"To be brutally honest, after that Japan loss every game has been a play-off for us," Springbok great Habana told reporters on Monday.
"It's been a tournament of quite a few highs and lows for us but when we get to Saturday each and every team will be on zero," the 32-year-old wing, a World Cup-winner in 2007, added in Bagshot, where the Springboks have taken over England's Pennyhill Park training base after the hosts' first-round exit.
"It's the knockout stage of the competition where if you lose now, you go home within 24 hours."
Wales, who have only beaten the Springboks twice, won the teams' most recent encounter 12-6 in Cardiff last year.
But Habana, now with France-based European champions Toulon, was one of several Springboks set to play this weekend who missed that match because it took place outside World Rugby's international 'window' and they were not released by their clubs.
An injury-hit Wales lost 15-6 to Australia last weekend, although both side had already qualified for the quarter-finals.
"We have much respect for what Wales have achieved with a lot of injuries," said Habana. "We all know Saturday is going to be a tough one."
One more try for Habana on Saturday will see him surpass New Zealand star Jonah Lomu's World Cup record of 15 in what will be the South African star's 115th Test.
Habana, who equalled the mark last time out with a hat-trick against the United States, said topping Lomu's World Cup tally would not change his opinion of the All Blacks flyer, who has battled a longstanding kidney illness.
"I don't think I can ever compare myself to Jonah Lomu... It only took him two tournaments to get to that record," said Habana.
"I've massive respect, not only for the rugby player he is but the person he's become - he's had to go through quite a few hardships but I think the way he has conducted himself, with humility both on and off the field. He will, without a doubt in my eyes, go down as one of the real legends of the game."
No side has ever won the World Cup after losing a pool game, but Habana said that while the current Springboks may lack the "smooth run-in" enjoyed by the 2007 team they could yet end up lifting the Webb Ellis trophy.
"I think after that first week and that shock loss against Japan, we had to stand up and be counted and instil some pride back in the jersey. 2007 was great and it's always nice to reminisce about the past, but the past isn't going to get you anywhere in this competition," he insisted.
"It's not going to be easy and we know we are going to have to be fully prepared if we want to be real title contenders."