Victor Matfield is wary of his aspirant student Andries Bekker.
Whether Matfield has held anything back in his education of Bekker remains to be seen. Certainly Bekker has looked every bit Matfield’s clone at lineout time throughout the Stormers’ campaign, dominating in a manner that has become synonymous with the Bulls’ second row maestro.
Saturday’s final in Soweto pits the tournament’s finest fives against each other, master versus student, Matfield having taken to Bekker in his time with the Springboks and deemed him to be a suitably talented candidate to invest time and knowledge in his development.
Now Matfield believes that Bekker has surpassed his closest rivals in world rugby as a lineout jumper – on his own ball and when contesting the opposition’s feed. Whether Bekker trumps his teacher will be decisive to the outcome of the match, and Matfield is acutely aware of the threat he poses.
‘He’s definitely developed into the best No 5 lock in the world. Nobody comes close to Andries at lineout time, particularly when contesting,’ Matfield told keo.co.za in his usual self-effacing manner.
‘We’ve worked together at the Boks now for a couple of years and I’ve got to see firsthand just how good he is. [The lineouts] are going to be a great challenge.’
The adage goes that there is no substitute for experience, and while Matfield’s offering exalting Bekker is admirable, it is misplaced. He remains the pre-eminent lineout lock in world rugby thanks, in most part, to his unrivaled devotion to analysis and preparation prior to matches. His ability to mentally torture hookers and jumpers on lineout defence is unsurpassed, as is his spatial sense and intuition on attack.
On Tuesday Matfield spent an hour in a video session dissecting the Stormers’ lineout with Bulls technical analyst Johann van Graan. You can rest assured it was just one of many such sessions that will happen this week. His insights and observations were always sharp, but it was his innovative planning that will ensure the Stormers’ capacity to resist for 80 minutes will be tested to its limit.
Matfield noted that the traditionally tight nature of finals made it imperative that your set phases were solid, adding that there will be an almighty tussle for the ascendancy in this regard at the Orlando Stadium.
‘Set phases are fundamental to your success, particularly in finals. Both teams have a good scrum and a very good lineout, with lots of [jumping] options,’ he said.
Matfield also praised the Stormers’ ability to repel one of the Bulls’ most devastating weapons. ‘Their defence of the rolling maul has been excellent throughout the tournament, so we’ll have to look at that closely and how we can negotiate that challenge,’ he said.
‘What’s more is that they employ the drive well themselves, so we’ll have to be on top of our game defensively. If we opt to contest their lineout feed and we miss, it make us vulnerable to the drive. So decision-making and accurate execution will be key in that regard.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Pretoria