WALLABIES legend George Smith is tipping a Rugby World Cup boilover, with Australia and Fiji to progress from the group of death ahead of hosts England and Wales.
Pool A is by far the toughest at the tournament, with most experts expecting one of the ‘big three’ — Australia, England and Wales — to miss out.
But Smith, the great 111-Test flanker, told walesonline.co.uk that he believed unheralded Fiji were poised to turn next month’s tournament on its head.
“It’s going to be extremely competitive in, as they say, the pool of death,” Smith said.
“The English and Welsh, from what I’m led to believe, have been training extremely well while Australia have won The Rugby Championship.
“But I think Fiji are going to go through with Australia.
“I played against a number of their players in the French Top 14 last season while I was with Lyon and they are very good.”
The Wallabies meet Fiji in their World Cup opener.
Fiji are coached by New Zealander John McKee, who has spent much of his professional career in Australia, including a stint as assistant coach of the Australian under-20 side in 2013.
Fiji recently beat Samoa in the final of the Pacific Nations Cup and their 31-man squad includes giant Crusaders winger Nemani Nadolo, former Waratahs fly half Ben Volavola and Chiefs winger Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
“Anybody who underestimates Fiji will be in trouble,” said Smith, who was available but overlooked for Michael Cheika’s 31-man Wallabies squad.
“I have known their coach John McKee for a number of years and have been impressed in how he brings players together and manages them.
“With Fiji that is the key because when they are happy they perform. John is very good at that, as you can see from the results because they have performed well and improved in the last couple of years.”
Smith also told walesonline.co.uk that he believed the Wallabies would go on to win the World Cup although “I hope they aren’t facing New Zealand in the final.”
“Australia have a strong nucleus of players, different combinations at No 9 and 10 while back-row forwards David Pocock and Michael Hooper can change the momentum of a match in the blink of an eye,” Smith said.
“The Wallaby lineout has always been competitive while the scrum performed well in The Rugby Championship, so it’s extremely encouraging for the World Cup.
“I hope us winning both previous finals on British soil is an omen. Players will be aware of what’s happened in the past and take motivation from that.”