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Victor Matfield lauds O'Connell as his greatest rival

By Nick Purewal

Springboks talisman Victor Matfield has hailed Ireland captain Paul O'Connell as "the best player I've played against".

Veteran lock Matfield admitted boss Heyneke Meyer's side must be wary of Ireland's lineout and driving maul in Saturday's autumn Test at Dublin's Aviva Stadium.

The 37-year-old Springbok retired after the 2011 World Cup, but was enticed back after a two-year break, since returning to action for both club and country.

Blue Bulls second row Matfield believes Munster enforcer O'Connell will once again prove central to Ireland's tight work, under new forwards coach Simon Easterby.

"I think he (O'Connell) is a fantastic player, I think he's probably the best player I've played against in my career," said Matfield.

"He is also a student of the lineout. You can see he puts in a lot of hours in analysing, preparing and getting his whole unit ready.

"So it is always tough going up against him."

Ireland are missing pack mainstays Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien to long-term injury, with the fast-improving Marty Moore also absent and Mike Ross battling to be fit.

O'Connell and Devin Toner are Ireland's shoo-in starting locks, with Iain Henderson and Dan Tuohy sidelined.

Matfield drew on all his 117-cap experience in predicting a gritty tussle up front with Ireland, despite Saturday's host's clear injury issues.

Former forwards coach John Plumtree whipped Ireland's pack into accurate shape in diffusing opposition mauls, with officials mainly judging them the right side of the laws.

Matfield picked up that theme in making an early call for the Springboks to take care to be water-tight with their own driving game.

"I think when Gert Smal (ex-Ireland forwards coach) was here he gave a lot of insight into how I think about the lineout to Paul, so it makes it more difficult," said Matfield.

"It is always a great battle against him so we know it's going to be very tough. We need to be accurate because they'll be putting pressure on us."

Belfast Telegraph


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