Former Springboks captain Victor Matfield believes there are only three teams capable of winning all three of their knockout matches to win this month’s World Cup in Japan.
The tournament begins next Friday as the Brave Blossoms host Russia in Tokyo, and many nations have been tipped to challenge for the Webb Ellis Cup in what’s being considered the most open World Cup in recent history.
New Zealand, England, Ireland, South Africa and Wales are among as many as seven teams that have been mentioned as potential title-winners come November 2.
However, Matfield, who played 127 tests between 2000 and 2015 and was a key part of the Springboks’ 2007 World Cup success in France, said it was clear in his mind who the three genuine contenders are.
“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,” he said at the Sandton offices of Investec on Wednesday.
“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.”
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Matfield has been impressed with the quality shown by Schmidt’s side over the past couple of seasons, and is of the belief that that could translate into World Cup glory.
“We’ve seen what Ireland have done in the past two years. They are the No.1 team, even though they haven’t shown the same form in the past year.
“You never know though, as they could peak at the right time. Their coach Joe Schmidt is a clever guy. He’s got an experienced squad that can beat any team. They’re going to be a dangerous side.
“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,” he said.
South Africa’s opening World Cup clash against the All Blacks looms as one of the most significant pool fixtures of the tournament, and the absence of Brodie Retallick due to injury could sway the result, according to Matfield.
The former second rower emphasised how Retallick’s talent across the park would be sorely missed by Steve Hansen’s side, despite the presence of Scott Barrett as his replacement.
“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 Retallick who 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 skill set that he doesn’t have from a decision-making and playmaking perspective. That’s where Retallick is important for them,” Matfield said.
The All Blacks and Springboks open their World Cup campaigns against each other in Yokohama next Saturday, while Ireland face Scotland at the same venue the day after.
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