Lions legend Willie-John McBride believes Paul O’Connell will win his personal battle with Victor Matfield.
McBride famously captained the 1974 Lions to victory in South Africa. A former lock himself, McBride noted the importance of the personal duel between the second-rowers and said he backed his countrymen to come out on top.
Bakkies Botha is set to line-up next to Matfield, but O’Connell’s partner could be fellow Irishman Donncha O’Callaghan, Alun-Wyn Jones or Simon Shaw.
Matfield is widely regarded as one of the best locks in world rugby but McBride expects the Lions captain to strike a massive psychological blow for his team.
‘The tour will be won and lost up front and Matfield has a huge influence on the Springboks but I don’t know if he’s playing well as O’Connell,’ McBride told The Times of London. ‘O’Connell’s full of confidence and this is all about players being on their game.’
McBride was not as confident in other members of the squad in terms of their experience. Only four players – Nathan Hines, Gethin Jenkins, Shane Williams and Stephen Jones – have played more than a couple of Tests in South Africa and McBride emphasised how difficult it is to tour the country.
‘I have some fears,’ said the veteran of five Lions tours. ‘I don’t know if these players have enough experience of South Africa. It’s a tough, tough place to play. The distance, hard grounds, sun shining, faster game, altitude. All of that hits you. We could win it but that could be the critical issue of the tour.
‘The last time Ireland went there, they got beaten. The last time Wales went, they got beaten. We are playing the world champions and I just hope these guys realise what that means. South Africa do not understand defeat. You never beat South Africa, you just score more points than them sometimes.’