South Africa v Wales, Rugby World Cup, September 11
Matfield relishing RWC opener
September 8, 2011
Matfield is key to South Africa's set-piece © Getty Images
South Africa's lock Victor Matfield is primed and ready for the challenge of Wales on Sunday in their World Cup opener.
Matfield is confident he will overcome a hamstring niggle to make the Springboks' starting line-up, although his second-row partner Bakkies Botha's prospects of shaking off an Achilles problem do not appear so promising. And the 107-times capped lock has no doubt about the areas South Africa will need to concentrate on against a Wales team buoyant following five wins in their past seven Tests.
"We all know they do a very hard-pressing defence and they compete very hard at ruck time," he said. "In that last (World Cup warm-up) game against England, England really struggled to get any quick ruck ball, so that is something we have really been focusing on. "We've also been targeting the breakdown. We need to be accurate, and we will also probably talk to the referee (England's Wayne Barnes) about that to see what we can do there to keep them within the laws.
"This is a big game for us. We have been focusing on Wales for quite some time now, so hopefully we can get everything right and it will be a good occasion for us. We've got a very tough pool. I think Fiji will come out firing, and Samoa played very well against Australia recently, so there are going to be quite a few tough games."
Wales prop Adam Jones, meanwhile, believes heroic failures are no longer acceptable for a team that has lost its past three games against South Africa by an aggregate margin of just 12 points. And the Ospreys forward has hailed Wales coach Warren Gatland's work towards breaking down any mental barriers that might have existed against the southern hemisphere heavyweights.
"We've been disappointed a few times we've played against them, especially in Cardiff. We pushed them hard," recalled 70-times capped tighthead Jones. "Until half-time last November, we were totally dominant, and they brought on one of their flankers (Willem Alberts) and he changed the game. He was a hell of a lump.
"When I first started playing, if we got within four or five points of South Africa, the champagne would be going in the changing room and we would be chuffed to bits. Not so much any more, we are disappointed. 'Gats' has installed a mentality that we can beat them. And when we do, I think we will push on a bit.
"It is something he has pushed into us, things like 'is anyone working as hard as us on the training field and in the gym?' We worked particularly hard during our summer training camps in Poland."
Gatland will announce his starting line-up on Friday, with the main area of selection debate likely to focus on fullback, where Lee Byrne, Rhys Priestland and James Hook are all possible starters.
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