Australia had reason to believe they would have the psychological edge going into Sunday’s Rugby World Cup 2011 quarterfinal, said Springbok captain John Smit in Wellington on Monday.
Australia’s record of five wins in the last six meetings between the teams would be something the Wallabies could draw on in the match between South Africa and Australia for a place in the last four, he said:
“We haven’t done very well against them recently,” said Smit. “We haven’t beaten them this year, and last year wasn’t fantastic either so they are a team that has had one up on us so they are good opposition. They will feel that they have the mental edge over us.
“We have thrown some different options at them over the past couple of years from a team selection point of view, but we will want to face the game as a fresh start in terms of where we want to go over the next three weeks, while they’ll look at what they have been able to achieve against us and take something from that.
“It’ll be two different mindsets but they certainly have the upper hand.”
Smit said that at least the Springboks would be aware of the dangers the Wallabies posed, having played them so frequently: “We do know their players better than most, and they have been a team that has been improving every single year,” he said. “But, on balance, it’s probably nice to be going into a tough challenge - but one we have faced before.
“To be fair, the games we have played against them have been in a different vein to what a World Cup provides. They’re not going to be fooled by what they’ve done and we’re not going to be fooled by what we haven’t done. Each of us is going to look back over the past four weeks and see what we have done and take the positives out of that and hopefully put it all altogether on Sunday.”
Both teams arrived in Wellington to be met by torrential rain – which is forecast to last for the entire week. Smit said, the experience of playing important knockout matches in all conditions would be vital to both teams.
“The real World Cup started this week and it’s definitely a tournament that is set up in two stages and it’s now do-or-die,” he said. “It’s a different level completely and you can see it in the level of media interest and the level of intensity involved.
“That knockout experience will come to the fore when it comes to these play-off games. You’ll see over the next few weeks which teams can use their experience in playing in play-off rugby to the best of their ability – making sure you take in the heat as much as possible and yet remain composed as to what you want to achieve.
“Gameplans will differ according to the opposition you’re going to play, according to the weather conditions – there are so many factors that come into play – and I think we are fortunate that we have a few guys who have seen a few different scenarios played out over the past few years.
“Pressure is what makes the game beautiful and what produces special performances and without that pressure you never reach the top of the game. So there will be nerves and the guys who have not been around in a World Cup before will feel a different type of vibe this week and it’s really how you deal with that and use it to your advantage or disadvantage that counts.
“We came to the tournament pretty undercooked and having the game time has been very valuable to us. The results of the pool phase are irrelevant but the experiences of the eight teams will be helpful for what’s coming ahead.
“We are pretty pleased with where we have come – we have managed to come through our pool and overcome some pretty tough challenges as well and we’ll be stronger for that but it comes down to how we will perform on Sunday."