Wallabies concede All Blacks are World Cup favourites

MONTPELLIER - Australia have been swallowing a big slice of humble pie ahead of the World Cup by admitting that bitter rivals New Zealand are the favourites to claim the Webb Ellis trophy.

MONTPELLIER - Australia have been swallowing a big slice of humble pie ahead of the World Cup by admitting that bitter rivals New Zealand are the favourites to claim the Webb Ellis trophy.

Australia are the only country which have won the World Cup more than once, despite the All Blacks starting most tournaments as the overwhelming favourites.

But time and again New Zealand have stumbled just before the finishing line and the Wallabies seem happy to crank up the pressure.

Coach John Connolly was not writing his own side's chances off, but admitted the All Blacks are the team to beat.

He wasn't getting too far ahead of himself, though, insisting that the task of easing through a group containing Wales, Fiji, Canada and Japan would not be the stroll in the park everyone seems to be expecting.

"We don't see it as easy. We have to concentrate on playing well," he said. "All teams, excluding the All Blacks, have struggled away from home and remember, we've won two World Cups away from home.

"It's fair to say the All Blacks probably deserve to be the favourites. We have four teams, the All Blacks, South Africa, France and us."

Former captain George Gregan was happy to admit their near-neighbours are the top team in the world, but believes the tournament could be more open than people think.

"The All Blacks are definitely the most consistent team, but you have probably four or five other nations who have proven over the past few years they can beat each other and that they can beat the All Blacks," he said.

"France is one of those teams. I put ourselves in there, as well as South Africa and Ireland. Wales are dangerous too. Argentina will be tough. England are there too."

It may be a tall order expecting England, Argentina or Wales to go all the way, but Australia have to play the Welsh in Cardiff and know that will be tough, especially when it is vital to win the group to avoid another group winner in the quarter-finals.

Australia know though, that they have won the tournament when not expected to before. They also know that on their day they can beat anyone - South Africa and New Zealand included.

In the Tri-Nations, Australia won both their home matches, 20-15 against New Zealand in Melbourne and 25-17 against a weakened South Africa in Sydney.

But they lost both matches on their travels, going down narrowly 22-19 in Cape Town and losing 26-12 in Auckland.

"We did not win the Tri-Nations, but we were reasonably happy with the way we played," said captain Stirling Mortlock. -Sapa-AFP

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