The Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV: Victor Matfield stands tall
Candidates: Hannes Strydom (1995), Victor Matfield (2007), Lood de Jager (2019)
JACQUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN
The Transvaal lock Hannes Strydom was highly rated by coach Kitch Christie in 1995, but throughout the tournament Mark Andrews and Krynauw Otto also wore the No 5 on their backs. Strydom, with a buggered up eye due to the fight with the Canadian players at the Boet Erasmus Stadium, did a great job in the final alongside Kobus Wiese.
And so, too, did Lood de Jager enjoy a good World Cup for the Boks in Japan last year, even though he, too, regularly swapped jerseys with Franco Mostert. De Jager actually only lasted 21 minutes of the final against England before crying off with an injury.
Then there’s Victor Matfield, one of the greatest No 5 locks to have played the game and the winner by some distance in this pick.
Matfield was man of the match in the final against England in 2007 (and the player of the tournament) and throughout his career was a man mountain for the Boks. He was at the peak of his powers in 2007 and dominated against all-comers at the tournament in France.
A genuine powerful figure in the lineouts, he normally won his ball with ease and often poached the opposition’s throw-ins, too. Matfield also got around the park and had a fair bit of speed in that lanky body, and he never shied away from putting in a big tackle.
A three-times Super Rugby winner, a four-times World Cup participant and two-times Tri-Nations and three-times Currie Cup champion, Matfield is a Bok great. He also captained the national team on a number of occasions and so for me, there’s just one man to wear the No 5.
Jacques’ choice: Victor Matfield
While Lood de Jager showed pleasing signs in 2015 and 2019, Victor Matfield is the undoubted lineout master for the Springboks.
He had already established himself as a first-choice No 5 in the 2003 tournament, but the Boks battled as a whole under Rudolf Straeuli to bow out in the quarter-finals against the All Blacks.
Matfield will forever be remembered for his gigantic contribution to the triumphant 2007 campaign in France.
While the All Blacks had the best lineout success rate with 93 percent (the Boks were second on 89), the South Africans pulled off an incredible 29 lineout steals on the opposition throw-in – with Australia second on 20.
A lot of those 29 steals would’ve been down to Matfield, either due to his direct involvement or with his ability to scrutinise the other teams’ set-piece.
Apart from his ability in the air, Matfield was a skilful ball-carrier who could take it up or pull off some deft offloads, while he had the agility to make critical cover tackles.
One such moment came in the 2007 final, when he hunted down a flying England centre Mathew Tait just short of the tryline.
The long-haired No 5 won the Man-of-the-Match award for another all-encompassing display to help the Boks to a 15-6 victory.
Matfield would’ve been confident of bowing out in style in 2011, but despite a solid lineout display once more, he retired following the narrow 11-9 loss to Australia in the quarter-final.
After a two-year hiatus, the Bulls legend returned to the pitch in 2014 to make the 2015 World Cup, which he achieved.
But despite getting his 38-year-old body fit after sitting out three matches with a hamstring injury, he had to play off the bench behind an impressive young Lood de Jager in the decisive semi-final against the All Blacks, which the Boks lost 20-18.
Ashfak’s choice: Victor Matfield
Hannes Strydom was a workhorse in the No 5 jersey in that final against the All Blacks in ’95. Solid and dependable, he did a job for Kitch Christie without ever setting the world on fire, although that is mostly to be expected from a second rower.
In 2019, Lood de Jager was in excellent form throughout the Japanese tournament but in the final he dislocated his shoulder after just 20 minutes.
In between Strydom and De Jager, of course, is the towering presence of Victor Matfield.
Let’s face it, Matfield owned the Springbok No 5 jersey for over a decade and became a world rugby legend in the process. He was at the height of his powers in the 2007 final and played an absolute blinder.
It is often said that the great players rise to the occasion on the biggest stages and that day in Paris, Matfield was named Man of the Match.
Matfield, the most capped ever Springbok (127 Tests between 2001 and 2015), is the easiest choice of this series, by some margin, so I am going to keep this short and sweet ....
Mike’s choice: Victor Matfield
Victor Matfield jumps into our ultimate Bok team!
Ultimate Springbok World Cup Final XV (so far): 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Hennie le Roux. 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Joost van der Westhuizen, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Victor Marfield ...