The Springboks will have the advantage over the World XV at the scrums and lineouts, with Victor Matfield proving the difference in the latter facet of the game, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Matfield has been brought out of retirement for a specific reason. The Boks have failed to find a suitable No 5 since Matfield retired at the end of 2011, and as a result their lineout play has regressed.
Matfield has proved himself worthy of a recall through some impressive showings in the Vodacom Super Rugby tournament, and this Saturday will mark the beginning of his second stint with the Boks. He has been named to lead the Boks in Jean de Villiers's injury-enforced absence, but more important than the captaincy will be the impact he has at the set pieces.
Matfield has not played Test rugby in two years, but is familiar with the Bok structures and many of the players in the current team. He has played a great deal of rugby with the likes of hooker Bismarck du Plessis, who will be feeding the lineout this weekend. He spent over a decade with Bakkies Botha at the Bulls, and has been playing regularly with Flip van der Merwe at the Pretoria franchise in 2014. Synergy shouldn't be a problem.
Indeed, while this match is the Boks' first of the season, they should be the more settled of the two sides. The World XV is comprised of 23 star players from as many as nine nations. And then there is the fact, as their coach Nick Mallett confirmed on Tuesday, that they will only have trained together twice before Saturday's game.
Much has been made of Juandré Kruger's selection. Kruger has played 17 Tests for the Boks and is familiar with Heyneke Meyer's systems. He was also a disciple of Matfield's for many years at the Bulls.
But even Kruger seemed reluctant to accept any comparison when fronting the media this week. Matfield is a class apart, and it's also worth adding that Kruger is no longer in the Test picture after some substandard performances in 2013.
Kruger is a fine lineout manager, but he won't have had sufficient time to prepare his forwards for this encounter. The World XV will struggle to match the Boks at the lineout, and Matfield could be the man to supply the hosts with a steady supply of turnover ball.
It won't be a complete rout, but the Boks should win this encounter comfortably. The game will provide them with a good opportunity to gel before the more serious encounters against Wales and Scotland.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Boks 4, World XV 0
In South Africa: Boks 3, World XV 0
MATFIELD'S STATS THAT MATTER
110 – The number of Tests he's played for the Boks (one short of equalling John Smit's record)
17 – The number of times he's captained the Boks
58 – The number of lineouts he's won for the Bulls in 2014 (Rank 2)
Springboks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Flip van der Merwe, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Fourie du Preez, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
World XV – 15 James O'Connor, 14 Drew Mitchell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Roger Wilson, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Mamuka Gorgodze, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Juandré Kruger, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Subs: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Joe Tekori, 20 Alexandre Lapandry, 21 Jimmy Cowan, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Stanley Benson.
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images