Victor Matfield says the Springboks need to deliver a more accurate kicking performance and has also identified the breakdown and defence as game-shaping areas.
A number of players in the incumbent squad were involved in the Boks’ 2007 clash with Fiji, and so the team is well aware of what can and will happen if you take the Pacific islanders for granted.
After a superlative showing in an unforgettable pool clash with Wales, Fiji advanced to the quarter-finals and very nearly caught the complacent Boks napping. It took all of the Boks’ experience and resolve to turn the game around in the second half, and the coaches and players remarked later that they would take a strong lesson from that match.
Bok front-rankers Gurthro Steenkamp and Bismarck du Plessis said on Tuesday that the 2007 quarter-final had been discussed at length in the build up to this weekend’s meeting with Sam Domoni’s side. Fiji are coming off a strong win against Namibia, while the Boks have much to prove after their shaky start against Wales.
The Boks scrambled well on defence, but afforded the Welsh too much momentum in the flyhalf channel through poor first-time tackling. They were also guilty of committing insufficient numbers to the ruck, and this allowed the Welsh to flood the breakdown and inhibit their attack. Wales openside flank Sam Warburton was later named Man of the Match for his part in the stalling of the Boks’ attacking momentum.
Matfield believes that Fiji are a more dangerous attacking unit than the Welsh, and more likely to convert turnovers and wayward tactical punts into points. The Bok vice-captain won’t feature in Saturday’s game but said that the team has decided to keep it tight and place an emphasis on accuracy.
‘The Welsh are a team that can really put you under pressure, they’re really good at keeping the ball,’ Matfield said. ‘But they’re probably not as much of a threat on attack as the Fijians.
‘If you concede a turnover, it only takes one, two passes and then they have the runners to finish. The Welsh have good structures, but they don’t have the individuals of Fiji. From the kicking game and from turnovers, you really have to be on your game from a defensive perspective.’
Vereniki Goneva scored four tries against Namibia, but is not the sole threat in the Fijian backline. The islanders enjoy a loose contest, and if the Boks fail to dominate the forward exchanges and implement their kick-chase strategy accurately, the Fiji backs will be in business. In a scrappy contest, Fiji’s athletic forwards are also capable of beating opposition defenders through an explosive burst of acceleration.
The Boks have committed to the game plan that brought them success in 2007 and 2009. For that game plan to be effective, the tactical kicks will need to be accurate and well chased, and the ball retention will have to be far better than it was against Wales.
The first-time tackling also requires improvement, as Fiji won’t need a second invitation to score. Wales had 61% of possession and had several chances, but just lacked the precision to finish.
‘We need to play a tactical game, but we need to be accurate,’ reiterated Matfield. ‘If we kick badly or give them opportunities in our own half, they’re going to be hard to keep out.’
By Jon Cardinelli in Wellington