BRISBANE, Australia (AP) -- These are not the kind of Reds the South Africans usually rub shoulders with, making it unlike any opening to a Rugby World Cup season that Springboks skipper Victor Matfield can remember.
Matfield's squad is staying at the same hotel in downtown Brisbane as the Liverpool Football Club, which played late Friday at a packed Suncorp Stadium in a friendly against A-League team Brisbane Roar.
The Springboks open their Rugby Championship campaign against Australia at the same venue on Saturday, and there were still thousands of tickets available for the match.
Matfield has often met the Reds, the Brisbane-based Queensland Reds in Super Rugby, but never the Reds from Liverpool.
The lobby of the hotel, and the pedestrian shopping mall in front of the hotel, were full of Liverpool fans in red shirts on Friday, and the Springboks were content to take a back seat on a weekend when they are usually the biggest draw in town. They even had to do their captain's run at Brisbane Grammar School on Friday because Liverpool had the main stadium booked.
"Yeah, it's different walking out of the hotel and everyone is saying 'Ah, where's Liverpool?'" Matfield said. You "see all these fans dressed in red staring at you, looking to see Liverpool -- they really have a lot of fans."
The weather was more like northwest England than subtropical Queensland, too, with below average temperatures and a strong breeze making for cold conditions. Although, that was expected to clear for Saturday.
There's an added burden this season on the 38-year-old Matfield -- who played the first of his 121 tests in 2001 -- with South Africa struggling with some injuries.
He has played in three World Cups, including South Africa's title-winning run in 2007, and knows it's important to gain momentum in the Rugby Championship. But he also knows how things can change quickly come World Cup time.
"I've seen teams win the championship and go on and win the World Cup, and I've seen teams not doing well in the championship and also win the World Cup," he said. "For now, yes we're all working toward the World Cup (but) this is a test in itself, so all the focus is on this now."
It is history that the team which has won the southern hemisphere's premier international rugby title in the professional era hasn't won the World Cup in the same year. New Zealand won the Tri-Nations in 1999, 2003, and 2007 but didn't reach the final of the subsequent World Cups. Australia won the 1999 World Cup and lost the 2003 final to England, each time after finishing second to New Zealand in the Tri-Nations; South Africa won the 2007 World Cup after placing last in the Tri-Nations; and New Zealand won the 2011 World Cup it hosted after placing second to Australia in the Tri-Nations, a tournament now expanded and renamed to include Argentina.
Victory in the test at Suncorp Stadium, where South Africa has only once tasted victory, will help confidence, Matfield said.
"It's more for us to see where we are as a team," he said. "For now, hopefully everything is in place. We really want to go out and win this game, and win the championship as well.
"If it doesn't go well, we'll have another look at it -- there's still time to fix it before the World Cup."
Schalk Burger is back at No. 8, adding some experience to the back row that helped South Africa to a 46-10 win over a World XV last weekend, and given the mission of beating Australia's loose trio to the breakdown so that the reunited Wallaby playmakers Will Genia, Quade Cooper and Matt Giteau are starved of front-foot possession.
The key for South Africa will be how flyhalf Handre Pollard and centers Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel, who have 12 caps between them, handle the pressure. Matfield said the young backs injected an excitement factor.
"They're going to be tested," he said, but "Handre showed last year (in wins) against Australia and New Zealand what he can do against the top nations. Damien is outstanding in Super Rugby, and was outstanding last week. Jesse has to prove what he can do at this level."