Victor Matfield praises Paul O’Connell and Ireland pack ahead of Dublin battle
Veteran Springbok expects a tough day at the office against Ireland captain Paul O'Connell at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday
South Africa’s veteran lock Victor Matfield expects to renew his lineout battle with Ireland’s Paul O’Connell when the duo clash in Dublin on Saturday.
The 37-year-old Blue Bulls star has been in great form since returning to the international stage after a two-year retirement from the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and the Springboks warrior is looking forward to renewing his duel with the Ireland captain.
“I think Paul O’Connell is a fantastic player,” Matfield said. “I have said it before, I think he is probably the best player I have played against in my career.
“He is also a student of the lineout. You can see he puts in a lot of hours analysing and preparing, getting his whole unit ready for the weekend. so it is always tough going up against him.”
Matfield also believes his task against O’Connell will be made harder because of inside information the Irish have after former South Africa assistant coach Gert Smal’s time with Ireland as forwards coach between 2008 and 2013.
Smal’s tactics under Declan Kidney went as far as to teach the Irish forward Afrikaans to read their lineout calls, which was a factor in their 15-10 win over the Springboks in November 2009 at Croke Park when Matfield and Bakkies Botha were South Africa’s locks and O’Connell’s pack stole almost 30 per cent of their lineouts.
“I also think when Gert Smal was here he gave a lot of insight into how I think about the lineout to Paul, so it makes it more difficult,” Matfield added.
“It is always a great battle against him and he has some great jumpers with him in that unit so we know it’s going to be very tough.”
While Ireland’s pack has been depleted by the loss of Leinster duo Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien among a number of other forwards, O’Connell is still expected to lead a strong squad into battle when Ireland head coach names his squad later this week, and Matfield has raised the issue of Ireland’s tactic at stopping the rolling maul, which many teams struggled to deal with last year, and how French referee Romain Poite interprets it.
“We know we have to be accurate in what we do because they will definitely put pressure on us,” Matfield added.
“The rolling maul is very important to us: looking at them as well, they were very successful in sacking the maul during the Six Nations, especially.
“They stopped it very well, so we know we need to do our things right and hopefully the referee will be very strict on how to stop the maul.
“If we do our things right it is a lot easier for the ref to see if they are stopping the maul legally or not.
“It’s important for us to get our set-up right, to get it started and from then it is easier.”