Johannesburg – Victor Matfield has unfinished business, and it has to do with a little golden trophy that he cradled in his arms in 2007.
He didn’t have the chance to hold the Rugby World Cup trophy in 2011 after the Springboks bombed out in the quarter-finals to Australia, but he wants to make up for that in next year’s edition in England.
And that was his motivation for making a comeback to rugby this year after retiring in 2011. He didn’t factor in the Bok captaincy, though, but now that he has completed a remarkable journey from being a retired Springbok to TV pundit and coach, and now Bok captain, he says it is “just amazing”.
The 37-year-old Matfield was unveiled by Bok coach Heyneke Meyer on Tuesday as the captaincy replacement for Jean de Villiers, who is out for eight weeks with a knee injury. The Springboks play their first match of the year against Nick Mallett’s World XV at Newlands on Saturday, followed by a two-Test series against Wales and an extra game against Scotland.
“When I wanted to come back, there is always a little nervousness around it, and just thinking last night, when coach Heyneke asked me if I am available, I was like ‘Yoh, that would be great’. And then when he almost made the appointment, I thought ‘Yoh, am I doing the right thing’!
“Now there’s going to be a lot of pressure, there’s going to be a lot of opinions, because of my age as well. But I think again, I did it this year at the Bulls – I was the fourth-choice as captain there and I really enjoyed being the captain. I know that there is a big responsibility, but I also said to the team that the captain is just the guy who stands in front when we run out.”
Meyer said that the other candidates he had seriously considered were Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis and experienced scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, but he felt that Matfield was the ideal choice as it is only an interim appointment for June’s four matches, with Du Plessis and Du Preez as the two vice-captains. De Villiers is set to return as captain for the Rugby Championship in August.
“I will be honest, if it was a long-term (appointment), then Bismarck would’ve probably been the captain, as I believe that he has really improved as a captain. He will be a great captain going forward,” Meyer said yesterday. “But it is a short-term decision, and Victor has been an unbelievably successful captain. The thing that clinched it for me is that most of these guys have played under him and respect him.
“I spoke to some individuals and they praised him and said he is a great captain, and they’d love to follow him. Even at training, you can see he is a natural leader. He doesn’t say much, but he leads by example and the respect that they have for him is immense.
“The one thing he had to prove when he came back is that they also need to respect him for the way he plays. He’s a guy I believe in and he is also playing great rugby – he also deserves his place in the team. I just felt, in the short-term, I would be stupid to not stick with a guy who has done it before.”