Former Australia legend David Campese on Tuesday tipped the All Blacks to turn home advantage into victory at this year’s Rugby World Cup, but said the Wallabies could upset the odds.
Campese, Australia’s record try scorer famed for his goose-stepping runs on the wing, said New Zealand were favourites but injuries might shape the final squads that travel to the showpiece tournament, which starts on September 9.
“You’ve got to look at New Zealand at home as favourites. That’s certain. But the Wallabies are also coming good at the right time,” Campese, Australia’s first player to reach 101 Tests, scoring a then-record 64 tries, told AFP.
“But there’s a long way to go before then and to win a World Cup you need 15 players on the day to perform.
“In previous tournaments we’ve seen that some players stand up and some don’t under the intensity of the competition. That’s what decides the winner.”
New Zealand won the inaugural 1987 World Cup on home turf, but have failed to regain the prize in their last five attempts, crumbling at key moments despite high pre-tournament expectations.
Arch-rivals Australia have triumphed three times, with Campese named player of the tournament in 1991 when he starred with six tries in as many matches.
Speaking in Hong Kong as part of a tour by the invitational Asia-Pacific Barbarians, Campese backed the game to grow in Asia, despite disappointing ticket sales for last year’s Bledisloe Cup game in the city.
He was joined in Hong Kong ahead of this week’s famous sevens tournament by former internationals including All Blacks Justin Marshall and Sean Fitzpatrick, as well as former Wallaby skipper George Gregan.
Marshall, the most capped All Black halfback, said he hoped this year’s World Cup would see free-flowing rugby return to a competition that has drawn criticism over recent years for timorous play.
“Players seize up on the biggest stage, so you often don’t see a lot of rugby played. It’s ruthless out there, if you have an off game you’re out and you may not have another bite at it for four years,” he said.
“There’s enormous pressure on New Zealand playing at home, everybody will be nervous, and that will play on their mind.
“Australia have a fantastic back line if they get possession, you never know what you’ll get with France and England always seem to deal with the pressure... it’s pretty open.”
The Christchurch native also said he was deeply moved by the deaths and damage caused by a powerful earthquake that levelled swathes of his home city in February, resulting in its allocation of World Cup games being switched.