Former Springbok captain Victor Matfield says the team will be boosted by continuity in the coaching staff going into next year’s British & Irish Lions series.
Matfield – the record holder for the longest Test career and most Springbok caps – was part of the squad that played in the previous series against the Lions in South Africa.
The Springboks would claim a 2-1 series win after winning the first Tests in Durban and Pretoria before going down in the final match in Johannesburg, with Matfield starting in all three Tests.
Speaking during the latest episode of the SA Rugby podcast, Matfield recalled the Lions series as one of the most special in his long career.
‘A lot of people talk about [how special] World Cups [are] – I played in four World Cups, but I only faced the Lions once, so it’s really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and something you don’t want to miss,’ Matfield said.
‘Playing the British & Irish Lions is just huge. Going into that first week, I remember all the media conferences, all the hype and all the talk – they talked themselves up and we got very excited to get stuck into them. It was just fantastic playing against them.
‘When they came here in 2009, it was the world champions against the Lions, and next year it will be the same again. In 2007, we beat England in the Rugby World Cup final, and the Springboks did it last year too, so I think the buildup to the Test series is going to be amazing.’
The Springboks have had a disrupted first year under new head coach Jacques Nienaber, who succeeded Rassie Erasmus after serving as his assistant coach, as the Covid-19 pandemic has caused havoc with the Test rugby calendar.
However, Matfield said the team would have the benefit of continuity in their coaching staff, especially when compared to the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks.
‘Back in 2008, Peter de Villiers took over from Jake White, so we had to take a year to get used to a new way of doing things.
‘But with the current team, I think things will stay pretty much the same – they will keep doing the things they’ve done under Rassie [Erasmus], the way they approach the game will be the same and I think the guys will be ready.’
Taking the lessons from the 2019 World Cup, Matfield said that the battle of the packs could be a decisive element between the two teams in 2021, just as it was in the World Cup final between the Springboks and England.
‘Just look at what happened at the World Cup last year – England’s forwards smashed the All Blacks in the semi-final and New Zealand could not play their normal attacking brand, that everyone expected of them, because they got dominated on the gainline,’ Matfield explained.
‘Then England went into the final against us, and their forward pack failed to get the upper hand against our pack – the Springbok forwards actually killed them up front.
‘It just goes to show, once you get front-foot ball, your forwards will decide the pace of the game and most of the time you will dominate the game as well.
‘The Lions will come here with a big, strong pack but we’ve got unbelievable forwards, most of them still pretty young, and they’ve got all the knowledge, so it’s going to be a great series.’