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Victor Matfield on Springbok injuries to Pieter-Steph du Toit, Faf de Klerk, SA changes, aerial battle vs Lions



Victor Matfield assesses the squads for Saturday’s series decider between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions

Victor Matfield assesses the squads for Saturday’s series decider between South Africa and the British and Irish Lions

Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield discusses South Africa injuries, team changes for the Boks and Lions, and the crucial aerial battle…

Matfield, who picked up 127 Test caps for South Africa between 2001 and 2015, and played every minute of the three Tests in the Springboks’ victorious 2-1 series win over the British and Irish Lions in 2009, spoke ahead of the third Test this weekend.

Former South Africa captain Victor Matfield speaks exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of Saturday's third Test

Former South Africa captain Victor Matfield speaks exclusively to Sky Sports ahead of Saturday’s third Test

Speaking to Sky Sports in South Africa, the former second row first touched on the injury absences of Boks pair Pieter-Steph du Toit and Faf de Klerk, and the changes made as a result.

“They are two big losses,” Matfield said. “Pieter-Steph du Toit was World Player of Year in 2019, and Faf de Klerk is just an unbelievable player and such an important guy for South Africa.

“But I think if you look at these tours and at the great teams, it’s all about the squad. You need to have depth, injuries will happen. You will have to make changes and people will have to come in.

“We saw last week Kwagga Smith coming off the bench for Pieter-Steph, two different players but Smith brought something else to the game.

Scrum-half Faf de Klerk, and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit will both miss Saturday's third Test through injury

Scrum-half Faf de Klerk, and flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit will both miss Saturday’s third Test through injury

“In the changes that South Africa have made, Franco Mostert has played at blindside before, especially for the Lions. I mean his work-rate around the park is right up there.

“He’s probably not as physical as Pieter-Steph du Toit but then Lood de Jager comes in with that physicality and also lineout ability.

“Lood must be the best guy at calling lineouts and putting other guys under pressure.

“We saw on Saturday as well, the moment he came on, the type of balls SA won and where they won it, all of a sudden that maul of South Africa was better than the first half.

Matfield was full of praise for second row Lood de Jager, who comes in to start as Franco Mostert moves to flanker

Matfield was full of praise for second row Lood de Jager, who comes in to start as Franco Mostert moves to flanker

“So I don’t think those changes will make a big impact. And then Cobus Reinach at scrum-half is very experienced.

“He’s getting an opportunity when he hasn’t really had an opportunity in a big game for South Africa. He’s played a lot of not as important games, scored a lot of tries.

“He’s a fantastic player and has played around the world, and in big games for Northampton.

“He can step in and bring something else as well, but Faf [De Klerk] is a very good player for us, so we’ll have to wait and see what it means on the day.”

Episode 8 of The British and Irish Lions weekly series gives us a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp

Episode 8 of The British and Irish Lions weekly series gives us a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp

Episode 8 of The British and Irish Lions weekly series gives us a unique behind-the-scenes insight into life in camp

One of the keys, both to South Africa’s 2019 World Cup success and to second Test victory over the Lions last week, was in having the resources to deploy a six/two split of forwards to backs on the bench, going against the convention of five/three.

For Saturday’s series-deciding third Test, however, the Boks have reverted back to five forwards and three backs among the replacements. Does that weaken them?

“It’s difficult. It’s a pity a guy like Duane Vermeulen isn’t ready,” Matfield added.

“I think if he was there, we would probably see him start and then we still would have gone with a six/two split.

“But at this stage, I don’t think there is someone that has been there and played a lot of games.

“So maybe, just for that back-up, if something happens with Handre Pollard and you have to bring someone on, who do you want there to kick that final kick? I think Morne Steyn is the right guy.”

The Lions meanwhile, have made some six changes to their starting XV to face the Springboks.

Head coach Warren Gatland has brought Liam Williams and Josh Adams into the back-three, Bundee Aki in at centre, Ali Price at scrum-half, Wyn Jones at loosehead and Ken Owens at hooker.

Sky Sports' Sarra Elgan reports from where the Lions have made six changes to their starting XV

Sky Sports’ Sarra Elgan reports from where the Lions have made six changes to their starting XV

Sky Sports’ Sarra Elgan reports from where the Lions have made six changes to their starting XV

There are also the likes of Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds and Finn Russell involved in a Test squad for the first time on tour, sitting among the replacements.

Is Matfield surprised by the number of alterations?

“It’s a lot of changes, but there are guys coming in who were injured and if you look at that backline, before the first Test there was a lot of noise that this was the backline they were going to pick, but they didn’t.

“Aki probably brings that bit more power in midfield to stop Damian de Allende. De Allende is really getting over the advantage line for South Africa.

“So they probably think bring Aki in and he has to stop Damian de Allende getting that front-foot ball.

Bundee Aki has been brought in to start in the centre, and Matfield feels this is to try and stop Damian de Allende's impact

Bundee Aki has been brought in to start in the centre, and Matfield feels this is to try and stop Damian de Allende’s impact

“And then in the back-three, they probably went for who’s the best under the high ball.

“I think in both Test matches, the team that won the aerial battle, won the game.

“We know that aerial battle is going to be so important.

“It’ll be interesting, but if you look at the side they’ve picked, we’re going to see pretty much the same that we’ve seen.

“We’re not going to see a lot of attacking rugby. We’re not going to see a lot of width on the attack. It’s going to be that set-piece and aerial battle.”


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