The Springboks were given a torrid time in the scrums by a fearsome Argentinian unit and, although that set-piece has been a focus of the team this week, Matfield said he expected a much-improved performance next weekend against Australia in Perth.
“It’s just one game that our scrum wasn’t good enough. But they are all fantastic players, the Sharks have had the best front row and they were all brilliant for the Springboks last year. I’m sure they will bounce back.
“The set-piece is a very important part of the game and the only way to fix it is out on the training field. We’ve looked at the video and we’ve been scrumming yesterday and today and will also be scrumming tomorrow,” Matfield said on Friday after the Springboks returned from a lengthy training session that went on for half-an-hour longer than expected.
“The guys there were outstanding the whole of last year so we know what they can do. It’s just one or two technical things that need to get sorted. I think there’s been an uproar because we’re so proud of our scrums and we’re certainly not happy with the way we scrummed last weekend. But I’m sure it will be fine next weekend.”
There is a tendency in rugby for teams to work incredibly hard on where their weaknesses have been exposed the previous week, to the detriment of what have been strengths before and sides are often surprised in another department, having fixed a problem area.
Fortunately the Springboks know that their lineout was no great shakes last weekend either, and the return of the masterful Matfield has seen them also put in a lot of work in that department.
“Our set-piece must work, that’s the bottom line, we have to secure our own ball and put pressure on their’s. We’ll have to wait and see who the coach picks and whether we’ll have five jumpers or four, but we also have to wait and see who Australia pick.
“James Horwill is a very experienced lock but he hasn’t been playing, while Rob Simmons has been there for a while. We also have to see which loose forwards they choose … ” Matfield said.
If there was a university of rugby, Matfield would have several Masters degrees and the veteran lock pointed out that the Springboks must not be distracted by all the rave reviews the All Blacks are receiving for upping the tempo of their game another notch in thrashing Australia 51-20 at Eden Park.
“First of all we have to focus on Australia and people musn’t forget that the same team that played in Auckland drew with the Mighty All Blacks two weeks ago on home soil. Plus the Waratahs won SuperRugby, so they’ll still be pretty confident and very competitive.
“We have to play to our strengths and control the pace of the game. We must make it quicker when we want it faster but also be able to slow it down and make it more of a set-piece battle. Rugby is all about who controls the pace of the game,” Matfield said.
Matfield’s long-time Bulls team-mate Morne Steyn has a crucial role in this regard and is expected to be back in the number 10 jersey for the match against the Wallabies in Perth.
“I don’t think the number 10 jersey is necessarily mine, every day I have to work hard and I can’t relax with the young guys coming through, but as the link between the backs and forwards, it’s mostly up to the scrumhalf and me to control the pace of the game. We want to set the pace,” Steyn said.
The Stade Francais player said he felt Handre Pollard had had two solid outings in the flyhalf position.
“It’s not always nice being on the bench, but I thought Handre did great. I do sit down and talk to him about small things, obviously I’m not coaching him but a young guy like that can always learn little things and wherever I can help, I do,” Steyn said.
Even a player of Steyn’s experience – the 30-year-old earned his 58th cap against Argentina – found it a daunting experience to twice be thrown into the deep end off the bench and steer the Springboks to victory against the rampant Pumas and he admitted he was looking forward to the pack getting into gear.
“I think the forwards will scrum better and go forward next weekend,” Steyn said while casting a knowing smile in Matfield’s direction. “In Salta we needed more momentum and we needed to get back on the front foot, which makes it much easier for the backline. I hope it will be much better in Australia, but we saw last year what we can do overseas and we have the confidence to do well over there.”
Lest we forget, the last time the Springboks were in Australia, they pounded the Wallabies 38-12 in Brisbane and that was with a weaker backline and no Matfield.