AUCKLAND — South Africa rugby coach Peter de Villiers said on Monday hosts New Zealand remain Rugby World Cup favourites despite suffering two consecutive Tri-Nations defeats this month.
The All Blacks surrendered the southern hemisphere championship following a 25-20 defeat in Australia last Saturday, one week after a much weaker team fell by 13 points to the Springboks in Port Elizabeth.
“To beat the All Blacks in New Zealand will be very tough and they remain favourites for the World Cup,” de Villiers said.
“But if the pressure in New Zealand gets to the team, then it could affect the way they play,” de Villiers said of a country that has won the title only once despite consistently boasting the best team in the world.
New Zealand hosted and won the first World Cup in 1987, but have failed repeatedly since, losing the 1995 “Nelson Mandela final” against South Africa, three semi-finals and a quarter-final.
De Villiers rates New Zealand favourites despite an impressive showing by the Wallabies, who earned a third Tri-Nations crown in Brisbane courtesy of a Kurtley Beale try after a 17-point half-time advantage disappeared.
“Australia got it right last Saturday — they cut down on the space available to New Zealand because both teams like to play expansively,” de Villiers said.
“The Wallabies concentrated more on their forwards and were brutal in contact and you could see they were very focused by the way they stared down the haka.”
Springboks doctor Craig Roberts said six players had minor injuries and trained separately on Monday from the rest of the 30-strong squad, who indulged in a contact session at a high school near the team hotel in Johannesburg. He named the minor “crocks” as utility backs Patrick Lambie (shoulder), Ruan Pienaar (ankle) and Francois Steyn (hamstring), centre Jean de Villiers (groin) and locks Bakkies Botha (knee) and Victor Matfield (hamstring).
Seeking to become the first nation to successfully defend the World Cup, South Africa face Wales, Fiji, Samoa and Namibia in Pool D and are expected to top the table and set up a probable quarter-final clash with Ireland.
The Springboks leave Johannesburg for Sydney tomorrow evening after greeting the public and are scheduled to arrive on Saturday in Wellington, where they open their title defence on September 11 against Wales.