“It’s really going to be about how coach Heyneke Meyer gets his selection right. There’s no doubt we go into the World Cup as a team that can win it,” said Smit at the Cape Epic mountain bike race launch in Sandton on Thursday.
Smit, 36, led South Africa to their second World Cup title in 2007, and said despite the team’s recent poor results there would still be cause for optimism in the quadrennial tournament starting in England in September.
The Springboks lost to Ireland (29-15) and Wales (12-6) in their end-of-year European tour in November.
Smit said he was not concerned by the timing of those defeats.
“It’s always difficult to have a perspective of where they are before the World Cup.”
Under coach Jake White, South Africa lost seven of their 12 Test matches in the year preceding the 2007 event, including a 49-0 defeat to Australia in Brisbane in the Tri-Nations.
In 2014, South Africa played 13 Tests and lost on four occasions.
“If you judged our 2007 team on our 2006 results, we probably wouldn’t have come out very well. We had a horrendous mid-to-end of season, and Jake and I were probably on the brink of losing our jobs,” Smit said.
“If you compare their 2014 to our 2006, these guys have probably won it already.”
The defeats in 2014 came in the Rugby Championships against New Zealand and Australia, both away, before the Wales and Ireland losses.
“They still performed well. They had a few blemishes on the end of year tour. I find that South Africans, and South African teams, when faced with challenges learn more out of those.
“And to be fair I think that’s how we won in 2007. We had such a difficult journey and had so many stumbling blocks that we had to overcome but we used those lessons in the World Cup.”
In their final Test of the year against Wales, captain Jean de Villiers suffered a serious knee injury and would be in a race against time to be fit for the World Cup. Whether or not De Villiers, 33, was fit, there would be enough senior players in the squad to lead the team to glory, said Smit.
“The end of year tour is a positive for us. We’ve got the players that can win it, we’ve got a coach who has got a great plan. We’ve seen progression in how they play. The biggest loss is Jean as a captain. But we’ve got so many leaders in that group.”