Matfield key to Boks’ RWC ambitions
8 Aug 2011
Heyneke Meyer says the Springboks could cope with the loss of John Smit, but without Victor Matfield their chances of a World Cup defence will be seriously undermined.
The Springboks have gathered in preparation for home Tests against Australia and New Zealand in Durban and Port Elizabeth respectively. After withdrawing the bulk of their first-choice players from the Australian leg of the Tri-Nations to allow them to work with consultant Rassie Erasmus in a training camp in Rustenburg, the selectors are expected to name full strength match 22s in the next fortnight. Among those will be Matfield, who has been central to the planning around the Springboks’ game plan while in camp.
Matfield started the Super Rugby campaign poorly, but became increasingly potent as the tournament progressed. The 34-year-old’s early form elicited fears that he would arrive at the World Cup a poor impostor of the imperious player he was four years earlier in France. But he allayed some of those fears with his rebound, and, having had an extended break, his first in years, Matfield is better equipped to play a central role in the Springboks’ World Cup challenge.
Meyer, his long time mentor and the Bulls’ director of rugby, says it is absolutely crucial that he is not injured prior to the global showpiece, particularly in light of a season-ending injury to his skilled deputy Andries Bekker.
‘With no disrespect to John Smit, who has been a fine leader and player for the Boks, he is not irreplaceable, whereas Victor is,’ Meyer told keo.co.za. ‘There are other hookers in the Boks mix who could step into John’s shoes and do a fine job. But with Andries out we need to pray that nothing happens to Victor because we just don’t have quality in depth in that position [No 5 lock].
‘There are guys who could do an adequate job, but none that have anything approaching his [Matfield's] technical knowledge and aura. Andries was getting there and was probably the second-best player in that position in the world. It goes without saying the Springboks will rely heavily on Matfield’s lineout play – it’s the one area we’ll be superior in a potential semi-final against New Zealand – but he is so important as a leader and tactician as well. I have insight into his influence into the planning tactically, which extends to all facets of play, not just the lineout. If he gets injured the Springboks’ chances of winning the World Cup decrease dramatically.’
Meyer continued to highlight Matfield’s long time lieutenant Fourie du Preez’s value. ‘Away from their individual technical ability and the confidence their presence gives their team-mates, their knowledge of the game is so good and it is clear that so much of what the Springboks do tactically comes from them. Victor and Fourie are the brains of the operation.’
After a poor Tri-Nations tour which featured a record defeat to New Zealand, the Springboks have placed a massive premium on confidence-generating victories ahead of the World Cup. Meyer is on record as saying he would have played his strongest side throughout the tournament in a bid to gain synergy and refine aspects of the game plan. But he says the Springboks still have an opportunity to achieve those goals.
‘They just have less time to get it right, so they’re under a little bit of pressure,’ he explains. ‘They’ll carry the confidence of wins in the next two Tests to the World Cup, but likewise they could carry the scars of defeat there as well. That’s why these Tests are so crucial.
‘Their execution has to be spot on because they employ a game plan that leaves very little room for error. If they get it right it’s very difficult to counter, but if they get it wrong, like they did in 2010, they will be vulnerable to counter-attacks from broken field.
‘I think Rassie will have introduced a little variation to their play on attack and defence, but execution remains the key. I’m still optimistic about their chances, particularly since the way the breakdown is being refereed now allows more of a contest. It offers the Boks an opportunity to impose themselves in the collisions and be rewarded for that.’
By Ryan Vrede