Armed with 110 Springbok and 124 Super Rugby caps, one would think that the return of Victor Matfield to competitive rugby in this weekend’s Super Rugby opener for the Bulls against the Sharks will be like a duck taking to water.
Matfield might be the epitome of calmness, according to Bulls captain Pierre Spies, but it was Matfield who conceded that he was nervous going into his first rugby match in two years after being named on the Bulls bench to face the Sharks.
While Matfield won’t be facing the wrath of a highly fancied Sharks team from the first whistle at Kings Park on Saturday, he will eventually be called up by Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
And it is the thought of physically and mentally fronting up to the Sharks players that gives Matfield butterflies in his stomach.
“Ja, it’s going to be interesting. The pre-season was good. I took part in most of the sessions. I feel good, a bit nerves of course. There is a great amount of experience in the team as well and great youngsters. Hopefully I can add to the team and help win us the game on Saturday.
“There won’t be no surprises; we know exactly what’s coming against the Sharks. It’s always one of the most physical games of the year and the conditions won’t be easy. We will have to be mentally tough and push each other to perform well,” said Matfield at yesterday’s team announcement at Loftus Versfeld.
If he takes to the field, Matfield will become the second-most capped Bulls player in Super Rugby history (117 matches) behind Morné Steyn (123) and will equal John Smit and AJ Venter (125 matches) as the most experienced South African player in Super Rugby (Bulls 117, Cats eight).
Spies said Matfield’s return would help bring calmness to the team and his experience was priceless.
Matfield will form part of a formidable team that Ludeke has put together for their first outing of the season after their season last year came crashing down in the dying moments of the semi-final against the Brumbies at home.
“It’s great to have Victor in the 22 – though he is almost twice the age of Handré Pollard. It’s a massive plus for us bringing massive amounts of experience to the team especially coming off the bench.
“He has a big passion to play the game and has been in great form in the training sessions and hopefully he can add a lot of value to our team,” said Spies.
The horde of players who last year left the Bulls for greener pastures abroad have left a gaping hole in terms of experience, but Spies is confident that they will put up a fight as good, if not better, than previous years.
And why wouldn’t Spies be quietly confident, with over 600 Super Rugby caps in the starting line-up and just over 800 in the match day squad.
“I believe we have more than enough experience to carry us through this season.
“We lost a lot of experienced players but we have a great bunch of younger players coming through.
“I still believe we have a strong starting XV,” added Spies.
Bulls: Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Louis Fouché, Francois Hougaard, Pierre Spies (captain), Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Flip van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Werner Kruger, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Frik Kirsten, Marcel van der Merwe, Victor Matfield, Jacques Engelbrecht, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers. – The Star