For the second match running the Bulls will be without Springbok lock and captain Flip van der Merwe when they play against the Chiefs on Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.
Again, three time Super Rugby winning captain Victor Matfield will lead the Bulls in the absence of Van der Merwe and the Bulls will be hoping for the same result as that which they engineered in ending the Sharks unbeaten run last weekend.
As much as the Bulls will miss the robust and abrasive presence of the hefty Van der Merwe, who is suffering from a hamstring strain, they will also be inspired to give their best performance under the leadership of Matfield.
So often star players who come out of retirement for a second bite at the cherry fail and never live up to their former glory. But in the case of Matfield it seems as though his decision to return to the game could be as beneficial to the Bulls and Springboks as it was in his heyday.
The fact of the matter is that Matfield was the heart and soul of the Bulls golden generation in which they managed to win four Currie Cup and three Super Rugby titles in nine years and he enjoyed success with the national team as well.
While Matfield refuses to admit that he has been a major influence in the Bulls change of fortunes after a dismal start to the season, where they lost their first two games, the truth is that since Matfield was elevated to the starting line-up the Bulls haven’t lost a game.
What has made Matfield’s second coming even more remarkable at the ripe age of 36 is that he continues to double as the Bulls forwards and attack coach.
While the Bulls now look to Matfield to lead them to yet another cup glory, Matfield says it is not about him but rather what is good for the team. “This is something that nobody could have planned,” said Matfield. “When I came out of retirement I obvious had high expectations. I’m enjoying it at the moment and being part of the team. But again this is not about me but it is about the team and what I can add to make the team successful.”
In announcing his return to the game at the beginning of the year, Matfield didn’t hide the fact that he wanted to become a Springbok again and win the World Cup for the second time.
Fortunately for the Bulls, Matfield’s road to rugby immortality will have to come off a good Super rugby season. If his performances in the past three matches are anything to go by, then Matfield will reclaim his Springbok number five jumper this year.
But Matfield is reluctant to speak about his Springbok aspirations. He says that everything is going according to the plan he mapped out with Bulls coach Frans Ludeke and that there will be enough playing time afforded to the other locks within the Bulls squad. “We are still going according to the plan. We have two other great five locks in Grant (Hattingh) and David (Bullbring) and Flip can play as well.
“There will definitely be games I won’t play and where they will get a chance to show what they can do. I think they are quality enough and Flip is the current number five lock in the Springbok team. The team is important for us and whatever is vital for the team we will do it,” said Matfield.
There can be no denying that Matfield’s towering presence as leader of the Bulls is good for their title aspirations and ahead of a clash against the defending champions, the Chiefs, there won’t be a better lock and captain than Victor to engineer and inspire his team to yet another victory.
Dean Greyling (contusion calf), Deon Stegmann (SC joint sprain), Francois Hougaard (knee spasm), JJ Engelbrecht (ankle sprain), Bjorn Basson (stomach ailment) did not train with the team yesterday due to the various niggles but they all will be available for selection. - Pretoria News