'If they could have played that first Test I would have taken them': Springbok legend Matfield thinks the Lions are lacking in one key area
Speaking exclusively with Daniel Gallan at TheXV.rugby, Matfield offered his thoughts on the upcoming Lions series ranging from his own experiences in 2009 to whether Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is past it.
Running his eye over the Lions squad, Matfield could only find one area where he thinks they are lacking – physicality.
“If there is one criticism I have of this Lions team it is that they lack a bit of that physicality,” Victor Matfield told The XV.
“I know they haven’t been 100 per cent fit recently, but I would have selected Manu Tuilagi and Billy Vunipola,” he said.
“If they could have played that first Test I would have taken them.”
Tuilagi has had troubles staying healthy while Vunipola’s form for England has come under scrutiny since his club side Saracens were relegated to the Championship. But both players in top form offer a daunting proposition.
Matfield believes that in order to beat the Springboks at home, you have to match them physically. That approach was central to the 2009 series, which has since become infamous for the level of brutality shown between the two teams.
“If you want to beat South Africa in South Africa, then you need to stand up to them physically. I wonder if this group of Lions can match the Springboks to a man.”
One the question marks posed over the Lions squad by South African media was the selection of Alun Wyn Jones as captain at 35-years-old, with corners of the media painting the Welshman as a ‘pensioner’.
Matfield called those claims ‘nonsense’, having first hand experience of playing international rugby as a lock well into his thirties. The Springbok captain explained he personally felt his best rugby came in 2011 at age 34, after he had more meaningful achievements in the Springbok jersey.
“He’s a phenomenal player and an immense character,” Matfield said of Jones.
“I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of talk about how he’s too old, how he can’t contribute anymore because he’s 35, but that’s nonsense.”
“I know I‘d already won a World Cup and a Lions series but I believe that I was playing my best rugby in 2011 when I was 34. I was still playing for the Boks at 37. I remember hearing how I was past it so many times.
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