JOHANNESBURG - New Lions recruit Victor Matfield says he is relishing the opportunity afforded him to take charge of the forwards during the Currie Cup campaign.
The former Springbok lock takes over from the now departed head coach and forwards guru Johan Ackermann. Swys de Bruin was named as the new head coach a month ago.
Also new on the Lions’ Currie Cup coaching team is Joey Mongalo, who moves up from the junior ranks, and will handle the team’s defence, while JP Ferreira, the former defence coach, will now be in charge of the team’s attacking game.
This is Matfield’s first full-time coaching appointment since he hung up his boots after the 2015 World Cup. He is at this stage employed as a forwards consultant and will be at training twice a week and on match days.
“It’s like deja vu ... I remember getting the call as a 21-year-old from Swys to join Griquas (around 1999) and now the call has come again. It felt right this time, too,” said Matfield, widely regarded as one of the best lock forwards and lineout operators in rugby history.
"The culture here at the Lions is just fantastic and it’s a great opportunity for me, a young coach, to learn a lot. The Lions have achieved a lot recently ... so hopefully I can add something to that.
“It seems like this is the next step in the right direction. I’ve only been here for two days but already I can see the respect between the players and coaches, the healthy culture and the work ethic on the field, the intensity in training. I know it’s going to be enjoyable and hopefully (after the consultancy period) I’ll have a future here.”
New defence coach Mongalo said he wanted to make sure there would be no more high-scoring thrillers involving the Lions. So far in the Currie Cup, matches have been characterised by plenty of tries being scored with little emphasis on defence.
“Defence coaches hate thrillers ... you don’t want to see scores of 45-34. A team’s character is defined by its defence, so I’m hoping to build on what JP has put in place and ensure there are no more thrillers,” he said.
“Obviously we want to keep scoring tries, but we also have to limit the opposition.”
The rest of the Lions’ coaching structure is the same as the one that did duty in Super Rugby, under Ackermann’s watch.
Meanwhile, Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli confirmed loose-forward Ruan Ackermann has requested an early release from his contract so he can join his father, Johan, at Gloucester in England. “No documents have been signed, but he has requested a release. It’s a family decision because they’re all going ... so we’re looking into it,” said Straeuli.
The Lions are also considering loaning some fringe players to the Kings for the Pro14, which starts at the beginning of next month, according to Straeuli.