Johannesburg - Saturday’s Vodacom Super 14 humdinger of a final at Orlando Stadium in Soweto will put that question to bed.
A battle royale is expected in the lineouts where the undisputed king of the setpiece, Vodacom Bulls captain Victor Matfield will come face to face with possibly his biggest challenge of his career – the budding career of the tallest man in the Super 14 – Stormers kingpin Andries Bekker.
The battle between the two in the setpieces is set to go a massive way towards determining this year’s Super 14 champions in the all South African final.
And for Matfield it won’t be easy. Standing at a massive 2.08m tall, Bekker has improved significantly over the past few years, so much so that Matfield rates him as the best in the world. Given his Super 14 season thus far, where Bekker has been the cornerstone of the Stormers success, it is clear to see why.
The big lock isn’t only a dynamo around the field; he makes enough turnovers to challenge the best of flankers and has a decent running game as well.
But on Saturday the master won’t be outdone. Matfield has always been a step ahead of the rest of the locks in world rugby for one reason – the preparation that he puts in before games.
While several of his team-mates had decided to put in some rest ahead of the final, or were going around the golf course, the big Springbok lock was hard at work in front of a computer, analysing, decoding and watching.
The slightest twitch in the opposition lineout and Matfield is as quick as a flash. Having destroyed opposition setpieces from Auckland to Twickenham (ask England in the 2007 World Cup final) the experience factor has to count in his favour, but it makes the contest all the more enticing.
The statistics don’t lie, the Bulls have won 164 of their own lineouts, coughing up the ball on just 15 occasions – that’s a 8.4% lost rate while the Stormers have taken 163 lineouts, losing 19 – a 10.4% loss.
On attack the Stormers have matched the Bulls, stealing 19.2% opposition lineout ball to the 19% of the defending Super 14 champions.
While the lineout is not a one-man job, it is run by the calls of Matfield and Bekker, with the two being instrumental in observing the opposition and reacting quickly to stealing a ball. The setpieces, so important in the modern game, has become the ultimate battleground once again. Turnovers are vital, and with the two best exponents of this in the lineout, the battle with be fierce and uncompromising.
Matfield acknowledges the task he has to face, but should be used to young locks challenging him by now. The elder Bull, has seen off the challenges across the world, and is likely to be at his best on Saturday. And while they are friends, you can be sure this will be put aside for the 80 minutes on the Orlando pitch.
“Andries is probably the best number five lock in the world at the moment,” Matfield paid tribute to the young Stormers, “There isn’t anyone close to him and he is an outstanding player. We’ve worked together at the Boks but it will be a great challenge for me
“We’re great friends as well, so that will make it interesting.”
The other aspect of the lineout that won’t be ignored is the platform it sets up for the rolling maul, an aspect both sides are certainly experts at. While Australia struggled and New Zealand wilted, the maul will be a keenly used ploy in the final and we can expect both Matfield and Bekker to try and turn the game to their advantage on attacking lineouts.
Matfield also pointed out the problem with contesting too much in the lineouts, which comes into play if the opposition don’t protect themselves from the drive. Going for the ball robs the defence of the sack, and those crucial seconds are often all that is needed for the attacking team to gain enough momentum.
“You have to get the balance right when you are contesting. If you go full out, then you can miss the drive, and pay because of it,” Matfield offers, “So you have to be somewhere in-between on this one.”
Both players have made some telling tackles with Matfield often leading by example in the tackle count stakes.
On Saturday though, as the Bulls face their toughest challenge of the season, with their title at stake, it can only be an enthralling battle to watch.
Bekker may have already received the accolades as the rising star of South African rugby, but the old sage in Matfield knows how to handle challenges.
Orlando will tell us the real story, and Springbok rugby will benefit from the result.