The Springboks opened their campaign in France with a comfortable 18-3 victory over Scotland in Marseille, setting them up nicely in Pool B, which also features the world’s number one-ranked side, Ireland.
Tries from Kurt-Lee Arendse and Pieter-Steph du Toit allowed the 2019 winners to pull away in the second half, with their pack enforcing its will both in the scrum and at the breakdown.
And for Thomas, who won 100 caps for Wales as well as captaining the British & Irish Lions, South Africa’s ability to challenge teams in a multitude of ways is what makes them such a formidable opponent.
“South Africa have got some great players, they have that bit of spark and X-factor,” said Thomas, who is bringing the Tackle HIV Myth Bus Tour to France during the World Cup to raise HIV awareness and understanding.
“When they need to pull their sleeves up, South Africa will go back to what they do best and become brutal. They become bullies to an extent and bully you into submission, they bully you into a corner.
“They have an all-round game which means that when Plan A isn’t working, they go to Plan B and then onto Plan C. Not many teams in World Rugby have a Plan C, they have a full alphabet if you need it.
“All they have got to do is give their quick guys space. And when you have such a brutal pack up front, the opposition are focused on them and gives you the opportunity to get the ball out wide quite easily.”
As well as their outstanding forwards, South Africa have developed a more all-court game in recent times.
With the likes of Arendse and Cheslin Kolbe on the wings, as well as fly-half Manie Libbok pulling the strings, the Springboks have shown they are more than the stereotype of a huge pack of forwards who can simply overpower the opposition.
One team who may threaten them are hosts France, who kicked off the tournament by handing New Zealand a first ever defeat in the pool stages of a World Cup on Friday night.
Les Bleus have been particularly strong over the last four years under Fabien Galthié and could potentially face South Africa in the quarter-finals depending on results over the next few weeks.
And while Thomas is leaning towards the Springboks and All Blacks as the two favourites to reach the final, he admits it would be great to see the host nation in the final.
“I really want it to be France because when you look at the French team and what France Rugby are doing, they are really trying to create a positive legacy for this World Cup,” added Thomas, who spent four years playing his club rugby in France for Toulouse.
“It could be like the French football team winning the World Cup in 1998. There is a sense of positivity around France that they are fighting for.”
Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and Terrence Higgins Trust and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv