'They make your breakdown very slow': Matfield credits Ireland's ruck work while seeking solace in history

The out-of-retirement lock compared the loss to a 2006 defeat at home to France.

Image: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

THE PARTY LINE from a beaten up Springboks squad in Dublin was that the 29 – 15 defeat to Ireland was a wake-up call.

They landed in the northern hemisphere declaring the fixture as the beginning of their journey to the 2015 World Cup. But left in the knowledge that there is still an awful lot of work to be done.

When he’s not playing well into an Indian Summer of his top class international rugby career, or just being an icon of Springbok rugby, Victor Matfield is an attack coach with the Blue Bulls. So who better to give a view on why – with 57% possession, 62% territory and a dominant set-piece – South Africa struggled against Ireland.

“It’s difficult to say because my head’s still in the scrum when they play, but first-phase we actually made a lot of momentum,” says the 37-year-old lock who appeared in surprisingly pristine condition after the bruising Test match.

“It was general attack where, coming down to the breakdown, we didn’t get quick ball so it was very hard to play from there.”

He added: ”In the previous two games we were very good at building a lot of phases, we were able to have a lot of rucks in our game – tonight, every time someone made a mistake.

“But all credit to the Irish they put our breakdown under a lot of pressure, so with slow ball it’s far harder to put pressure on the attack.”

“Their defence was very good, and that’s what won them the game. They were very good on ground, and it’s not just one player it’s the whole team.

“They make your breakdown very slow and that was probably the one area: we just couldn’t get quick ball at the rucks tonight and we couldn’t play on the front foot so we didn’t have any momentum.”

Losing momentum meant losing the game and suddenly the Springboks look a little vulnerable heading to Twickenham. Wet weather rugby is a different ball game to the thrilling spectacle that the Rugby Championship is capable of providing which will be a point reinforced by Heyneke Meyer now that his squad are paying attention after their ‘wake-up call’.

Springboks Victor Matfield in front of Schalk Burger  Eben Etzebeth Tendai Mtawarira. Marcell Coetzee Duane Vermeulen  and Jannie du Plessis Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

One defeat, however, does not completely unravel a class team. Matfield has been around long enough to know that painful defeats can pave the way for glorious triumphs. And he needs only look back to the build-up to the last World Cup hosted in Europe (which, of course, South Africa won) for a little bit of consolation.

“In 2007 we had a big defeat at the end of year tour as well, against France,” said Matfield, in reference to a 2006 10-point defeat to Les Bleus in Cape Town.

“The next year we won the competition, so I think this is a wake-up call.

“There’s one or two small little adjustments we need to do to our game, especially in these conditions, but hopefully we can learn from this.”

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