The Springboks left for France yesterday confident that four years of planning and upheaval in South African rugby have put them in a good position to challenge for the World Cup crown.
Coach Jake White said there were times over the past four years when he did not think he would still be in charge the day they left for the World Cup.
"You never take going to the World Cup for granted. But I am very, very happy with where we are. I have 16 guys from my first year in charge and I have a team with 860-odd caps. We've worked on this for the last four years and now we need to make sure we get it going for the next seven weeks," White said.
White has survived a motion of no-confidence, standoffs with officials over selection and political wrangling over the racial make-up of the squad.
"There is unique pressure in South African rugby. When I started in 2004, the pressure was to beat Ireland in a home series and now there is no doubt people in South Africa believe we can win the World Cup. It's a pressure we take gladly," he said.
"Pressure is probably the one thing South African rugby players can handle better than anyone else," White added.
Captain John Smit was a member of the 2003 World Cup squad knocked out in the quarterfinals after a rocky build-up that included the notorious Kamp Staaldraad, in which the players were forced to stay overnight and naked in a muddy pit.
"There's a big contrast between now and 2003. In 2003, every single guy was just happy to have survived and to get to Australia," Smit said. "But this squad is as settled as it has ever been in the last decade. There's a completely different focus and we have a very firm belief in our ability to win the World Cup."
White said he had already chosen his team to play England in the key pool match on September 14.
"I've had my starting 15 for the last four years, although obviously there have been changes here and there because of injuries and circumstances.
"It's not like in 2003 when our game against England was made out to be the be-all and end-all of our World Cup but, realistically, people will be saying the England game will be the one to decide who wins the pool." - Reuters