Japan is an extremely hot and humid place at the moment, but 2007 World Cup hero Victor Matfield believes that will suit South Africa in this year’s showpiece tournament, certainly for the first month or so.
The weather on Friday in Kagoshima is predicted to be 34⁰ with 80% humidity, meaning very sweaty players and wet balls, and trying to play expansive, running rugby in those circumstances is an extremely difficult, risky occupation. Matfield believes the Springboks’ traditional strengths are ideally suited to the oppressive conditions they will find in Japan, however.
“The World Cup has never been won by an extravagant game plan and the crucial games are all about pressure, being able to apply it and you then need to convert the opportunities it creates, it’s about forcing turnovers and penalties. Even against New Zealand, we’ve seen that the Springboks can put the ball in their 22 and then force them to play out of there.
“That’s not going to be easy to do in Japan, especially in the first month of the World Cup when it is going to be incredibly humid. The Springboks may need to play more rugby later on in the tournament when it cools down, but at the moment they have the defensive system to put teams under a lot of pressure and they are executing it so well at the moment,” Matfield said on Wednesday at the Sandton offices of Investec, for whom the former Springbok captain is an ambassador.
While all attention is currently focused on the Springboks’ opening game, against the defending champion All Blacks on September 21, Matfield said it was more important for Siya Kolisi’s team to peak for the knockout stages, with the quarterfinals starting on October 19.
“The World Cup is all about those last three games [quarterfinal, semi-final, final] and you have to make sure you peak at the right time because there is always something to fear in those knockout rounds. In fact, if we lose to the All Blacks, it might even be easier on the other side of the draw. There are seven teams who can all beat every other team on their day, but I believe there are only three teams – New Zealand, South Africa and England – who can win those three big games in a row and win the World Cup.
“The Springboks have had a great build-up, the squad all know exactly where they stand, they all know when they are going to be involved, so there shouldn’t be any negativity when guys don’t get selected. Having been there for two-and-a-half weeks already will definitely help a lot for that first game, because the guys will be used to the humidity. But it does make the tournament long for them,” Matfield said.