Why former Bok Victor Matfield believes the Rugby World Cup is wide open

John Smit, Victor Matfield and James Dalton during the Funeral service of former rugby player James Small at The Deck at the Wanderers Club on July 18, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
John Smit, Victor Matfield and James Dalton during the Funeral service of former rugby player James Small at The Deck at the Wanderers Club on July 18, 2019 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Former Springbok and Bulls lock Victor Matfield believes that the Rugby World Cup is wide open and Ireland could spring a surprise in Japan at the showpiece this month.

The starts next week Friday and has shaped up as one where one of seven teams can win.

“There's always something to fear.

"If you look at how the World Cup is set up‚ there's seven teams that could beat each other on any given day.

"Any of those teams can beat New Zealand and South Africa.

"However‚ I think there's only three big teams that can win three consecutive knock-out games. All of them are dangerous‚ especially Ireland‚” Matfield said.

Only one of the four World Cups Matfield attended as a player didn't have an outright favourite.

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That happened to be the one South Africa won in 2007 while the 2003‚ 2011 and 2015 editions had England and New Zealand as the overwhelming winners.

Matfield knows this World Cup is open and feels that Ireland‚ whom the Springboks could face in the quarter-finals‚ could spring a surprise.

“We've seen what they (Ireland) have done in the past two years‚" he said.

"They are the number one team‚ even though they haven't shown the same form of the past two years or last year.

"You can never know though as they could peak at the right time and their coach Joe Schmidt is a clever guy.

"He's got an experienced one that can beat any team. They've also beaten everyone recently so they're going to be a dangerous side.”

With New Zealand and South Africa meeting on September 21 in Yokohama‚ Brodie Retallick's fitness has now become a major issue for All Black coach Steve Hansen.

Retallick was injured in the 16-all draw between the All Blacks and the Springboks in Wellington.

While New Zealand have found various ways of coping without him‚ he's New Zealand's best forward.

Matfield‚ an astute judge of players who play in the position he owned for the better part of a decade‚ said Retallick bring more to the All Black team than just line-out work.

“Scott Barrett is there and he's a good replacement.

"He's been fantastic for the Crusaders as a number four lock.

"He doesn't have the same skill-set as Brodie Retallick. He's the guy that gets the ball in the midfield for the All Blacks.

"He gives them width on attack whereas Barrett is a hard grafter and probably has a higher work-rate than Retallick.

"It's the Brodie skillset that he doesn't have from a decision-making and play-making perspective‚” Matfield said.

“That's where Retallick is important for them‚ especially from a Springbok rush defence perspective.

"He'll have to make those decision because if the decisions are wrong‚ he gets behind the advantage line very quickly.”

With former Springbok winger and 1995 Rugby World Cup winner Chester Williams passing away last week‚ Matfield said his contribution to SA's nation-building project can't be underestimated.

“We were shocked on Friday evening when we heard the news.

"The 1995 and 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning guys got together about two weeks ago and we spoke about the sadness of losing three of the 1995 guys.

"Chester's gone now and he was a great ambassador for this country‚” Matfield said.

“He played a key role in bringing the country together along with Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar. They were the stand-out guys and the legacy he's left behind will be huge.”