Former Springbok lock Victor Matfield has rubbished claims that B&I Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is too old to make an impact for the tourists.
Speaking to The XV, Victor Matfield was quick to dismiss any suggestions that Alun Wyn Jones was too old or couldn’t contribute on the international stage.
‘He’s a phenomenal player and an immense character. I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of talk about how he’s too old, how he can’t contribute anymore because he’s 35, but that’s nonsense’.
Matfield holds the record for being the oldest person to ever play for the Springboks and earned a total of 127 caps, making him the most capped player to ever represent South Africa. He believes that too many people are writing off Jones in the same way they wrote him off.
‘I believe that I was playing my best rugby in 2011 when I was 34. I was still playing for the Boks at 37. I remember hearing how I was past it so many times.
‘People kept writing me off because of my age. Age is not a problem. I watched Wales over the Six Nations and it was obvious that Alun Wyn is still a huge presence on the field.’
The Springbok great also believes that Warren Gatland made the correct decision in appointing Jones as captain, stating that his leadership credentials add a lot of value to the set-up.
‘It was the right decision to select him as captain. There was a lot of talk of [Maro] Itoje getting it, but he’s not even captain of England. How can you get in a group like this and all of a sudden you need to pull guys together when you haven’t pulled your country together?
‘That’s really the most important job of a captain, more important than winning a collision or stealing a few lineouts.’
One of the most tantalising matchups for the coming series will be between Springbok enforcer Eben Etzebeth and Maro Itoje. Matfield considers the English lock one of the best despite not specialising in any department.
‘He gives you everything, but is he the best at one particular thing? Is he the most physical lock? No. Is he the best at the lineout? No. Is he the best with ball in hand? I don’t think so.
‘He can do everything but he’s almost like an extra loose forward rather than a pure lock. In fact, I’ve always thought his best position is flank.’
Although he dismissed claims that Jones was past his best, Matfield was not so quick to dispel the other prevailing opinion that the Lions may lack for physicality. In fact, it is a view he himself subscribes to.
‘If there is one criticism I have of this Lions team it is that they lack a bit of that physicality. If you want to beat South Africa in South Africa, then you need to stand up to them physically. I wonder if this group of Lions can match the Springboks to a man.’