Victor Matfield . Picture: EUGENE COETZEE / THE HERALD
Victor Matfield . Picture: EUGENE COETZEE / THE HERALD

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

The tournament starts on September 20 and Matfield noted that seven teams are tipped as potential winners.

“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,” said Matfield.

“Any of those teams can beat New Zealand and SA. However‚ I think only three big teams can win three consecutive knockout games. All of them are dangerous‚ especially Ireland‚” the former Bok said.

Only one of the four World Cups Matfield played in did not have an outright favourite. That was the one SA won in 2007, while the 2003‚ 2011 and 2015 editions had England and New Zealand as standout favourites.

Matfield says Ireland‚ who the Springboks could face in the quarterfinals‚ could spring a surprise.

“We’ve seen what Ireland have done in the past two years‚” he said. “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.”

The 2019 Rugby World Cup begins on Friday, September 20 2019, in Japan. The Boks have been training relentlessly towards this World Cup and arrived in Japan with high hopes. SA will be battling it out with New Zealand in their first game on September 21 2019 with their second game against fellow African team Namibia on September 28 2019.

With New Zealand and SA meeting on September 21 in Yokohama‚ lock forward Brodie Retallick’s fitness has become an 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 ways of coping without him‚ he is his country’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 brings more to the All Blacks than 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 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‚” Matfield said. “That’s where Retallick is important for them.”

Speaking of the death of Chester Williams last week, Matfield said the former Springbok wing and 1995 Rugby World Cup winner’s contribution to SA’s nation-building project cannot be underestimated.

“We were shocked 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.

“He played a role in bringing the country together, along with Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar. They were the standout guys and the legacy he’s left is huge.”