4 Oct 2011

South Africa begin quarter-final mind games

1:49 pm on 4 October 2011

The South Africa skipper John Smit fired the first shot in the psychological battle against Australia by saying his side were the underdogs for their Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash in Wellington.

World Cup holders South Africa have won just one of their last six against the Wallabies.

They lost twice in this year's Tri-Nations and in 2010 the Springboks were defeated on the South African highveld for the first time in almost 50 years.

South Africa started slowly at the World Cup, needing all their mental toughness and a late Francois Hougaard try to beat Wales 17-16 in their Pool D opener.

They hammered Fiji and Namibia but had to withstand a fired-up Samoa, who had to win to make the quarter-finals, in their final pool game.

The Springboks came out on top 13-5, again thanks to a desperate defensive performance, most notably from loose forwards Schalk Burger and Heinrich Brussow.

Mind games aside, the Springboks will prepare for Sunday's match at Wellington Stadium with injury concerns over their two starting wingers, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana.

Utility back Frans Steyn has been sent home after he sustained a shoulder injury and the Springboks coach Peter de Villiers says they would feel his loss more than New Zealand would miss first five Dan Carter.

South Africa could meet New Zealand in the semi-finals if both teams progress.