“Our four locks ae probably the best second row combination at the World Cup,” former Springbok captain Victor Matfield said on Wednesday, and he should know, being arguably South Africa’s best ever lock and the player of the tournament in 2007 when they last lifted the most prestigious trophy in rugby.
While many would argue that New Zealand’s Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock are the best pair of locks in world rugby, Retallick is recovering from a dislocated shoulder and will apparently only be available for the knockout stages of the World Cup, and Whitelock is 30-years-old and perhaps past his peak.
Scott Barrett is a consistent, reliable back-up performer and Patrick Tuipulotu is the other lock in their squad.
South Africa’s quartet is 27-year-old Eben Etzebeth, 28-year-old Franco Mostert, RG Snyman (24) and Lood de Jager (26).
Snyman is the least experienced with 16 Test caps, while Mostert has 32 caps, De Jager 40 and Etzebeth is the veteran with 79 caps.
Both Etzebeth and De Jager played in the 2015 World Cup.
“Our four locks are probably the best combination at the World Cup. Eben is very experienced, he gets you over the advantage line, he’s the enforcer and he puts his mark on the game. Then there’s Franco and Lood, either of whom could start, they can both control the lineout. Lood carries more, he can offload and in defence he hits the opposition back; Franco is a bit more mobile, he’s like a fourth loose forward and he also has a better understanding with hooker Malcolm Marx, but Lood is an unbelievable contester in the lineouts.
“I would always play RG off the bench, he has the skillset to really hurt teams in the last 30 minutes, he can make those special moments happen. I also believe Malcolm’s throwing in is now sorted, we’ve been very good on our own ball this year so there’s no longer an issue there,” Matfield said at the Sandton offices of Investec, for whom he is an ambassador, on Wednesday.
Those players who can make special moments happen are called different things in different languages, but Matfield is content that the Springboks have enough ‘x-factor’ if it is required.
“First of all you need a pack that can dominate, a great kicking game and a great defensive system, then you look for x-factor and our back three are all special. And it must be very difficult not to pick Sbu Nkosi, those were unbelievable tries he scored against Argentina. Plus there’s RG Snyman and what he can create with his offloading game, and Herschel Jantjies.
“You need those sort of guys coming off the bench who can create something. I was also glad to see Frans Steyn get 30 minutes against Japan and, even though Handre Pollard is probably our key guy, maybe Frans can start at flyhalf against Namibia. To play flyhalf you need to spend time there, although he probably trains a lot in that position. I think every game Rassie Erasmus will probably be trying to decide between Elton Jantjies or Frans Steyn for the bench,” Matfield said.