• Matfield demands lift in standards

    Victor Matfield says the Springboks will need to improve at the set pieces if they’re to beat Ireland in two weeks' time. JON CARDINELLI reports.

    Since the great No 5 returned to the international arena in June 2014, the Boks have certainly lifted their standards at the lineout. The scrum has also come a long way, as was evident in that Test against the All Blacks in Wellington when they won a tighthead in the final play of the game.

    The Boks have taken confidence from those set-piece showings, but as Matfield confirms, the challenge will be very different when they travel to Europe this November. Conditions make for a slower tempo, and the set pieces are more fiercely contested than is the case in the southern hemisphere.

    What’s more, the Boks will be tested in the very first match of the tour when they battle Ireland in Dublin on 8 November. According to Matfield, Ireland are the best set-piece team on the planet.

    ‘That game is going to be huge,’ Matfield said from the Boks’ base in Stellenbosch on Thursday. ‘Ireland won the Six Nations this year, and are statistically the best set-phase team in the world. We’re up there with the All Blacks, but Ireland are right on top, so we have some catching up to do.’

    The contracted Boks, as well as several other local players, have gathered to train in Stellenbosch ahead of the four-match tour of Europe. The 36-man touring party will be confirmed on Monday, and depart for Ireland the following Saturday.

    Matfield reiterated the challenge facing the Boks on the first two weeks of the tour. Ireland and England have shown how difficult they are to beat at home. Both teams boast a fearsome reputation at the set pieces.

    The veteran lock is, however, confident that the Boks will stand up to the challenge at both the scrum and lineout.

    ‘This is the first time that we’ve had two weeks to prepare for an end-of-year tour,’ said Matfield. ‘We’re working hard, but there’s also a sense that we will go on tour as a fresh unit.

    ‘We’re playing a new attacking style, and the success of this game plan depends on good decision-making. We will also have to take the conditions of the north into account, and adapt.

    ‘We’ve set ourselves very high standards, and in terms of the set pieces, the goal is to win 100% of our ball. That’s every feed to the scrum and lineout. We still have some way to go.’

    The Boks beat the All Blacks recently, a result that marked their first win against New Zealand in three years. The victory is massively important in the context of next year’s World Cup, but as many Boks have confirmed in recent weeks, so is the coming tour to Europe.

    In 2010, the Boks won three out of four matches in Europe, losing to Scotland. There’s been no such complacency on subsequent tours, and there should be no complacency over the next month or so.

    ‘You have to give credit to Heyneke Meyer and the management team, there is a strong culture here and the standards are very high. In the past, perhaps we didn’t maintain the intensity, and lost games we shouldn’t have. But Heyneke won’t allow the standards to drop,’ Matfield said.

    ‘We’ve won all of our matches on the two previous tours, and want to maintain our perfect record as we head into a World Cup year. That will give us a lot of confidence ahead of that tournament [which will be played in England next September].’

    Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images

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    Jon Cardinelli