Victor Matfield is the man the Wallabies believe they must counter to beat the Springboks on Saturday.
Matfield, who has never been given his dues in South Africa, has been rated the best lineout exponent in the game for three years. And the Wallabies know that if they are to build any form of continuity then Matfield cannot be allowed to dominate.
Ironically the Bok head coach Jake White has never been a fan of Matfield’s. He picks him more out of necessity than desire. But Wallabies coach John Connolly and All Blacks coach Graham Henry would choose Matfield ahead of any lock in their respective squads.
Matfield knows he has the respect of his opposition and this was again illustrated when the Wallabies faced the media in Johannesburg.
Phil Waugh, whose done a fair bit of pre-match talking for the Wallabies in the last few weeks, singled out Matfield as the one individual the Wallabies needed to keep quiet.
“He’s been probably the number one lineout forward in the world over the last couple of years so it’s important with our attacking lineouts that we don’t give him a chance to steal the ball,” Waugh said. “He’s been stealing probably more ball than anyone else in the tournament so we’ve got to be pretty sharp at lineout time.”
Connolly added: “The Boks have five great jumpers – the two second-rowers and all of their back-rowers are excellent jumpers in their own right, which puts you under a lot of pressure. Against South Africa, it all revolves around winning your own lineouts. That’s imperative.”
Another imperative is the physical confrontation, especially at the breakdown. Waugh believes whoever has the edge there will win.
“It’s going to be physical, it’s not just going to be the opening few minutes, it’s going to be the whole 80 minutes.”
Waugh, taking the cue from his coach Connolly, also praised the Bok forwards for their dominance of the All Blacks in the Rustenburg win.
“Whoever physically aims up and dominates physically I think will win the game so it’s an area we’ve got to perform in. The South Africans were pretty impressive, particularly in the latter stages of the game against the All Blacks. In the last 20 minutes they found a lot of open space and when they did that they were fairly handy ball runners. They started the game by driving a lot and then finished the game by playing fairly expansively. We’ll be expecting a similar sort of game-plan from them this week.”
The Wallabies have not beaten the Boks in Johannesburg since 1963 and have won just one from their last 11 tests in South Africa.