Johannesburg – Victor Matfield, returns to the game next week after a two-year absence.Opinion around his aborted retirement is divided: Will he succeed and reach great heights once again or will it end prematurely with a whimper? Vata Ngobeni and Jacques van der Westhuyzen debate the issue.
(By Vata Ngobeni)
It is no secret that there aren’t too many people backing Victor Matfield’s decision to come out of retirement at the age of 36 and resurrect what was a stellar rugby career.
The question on everyone’s lips is why?
Why would Matfield want to soil his legacy, one that saw him become the most successful South African Super Rugby franchise captain when he led the Bulls to three Super Rugby titles and a Springbok career that spanned a decade, over a 100 caps and many historic occasions?
That would be enough of a career to satisfy two if not three professional rugby players’ ambitions in this day and age.
But for Matfield it is not enough.
And it has nothing to do with the money or the fame but everything to do with that burning desire deep down inside to be part of a team that create history and with next year’s Rugby World Cup looming large, Matfield wants to wrap his larger than life hands around that Webb Ellis trophy one more time.
This time Matfield wants to do it not with his band of brothers in his teammates but under the tutelage of Heyneke Meyer.
It was Meyer who had a significant hand in molding Matfield into the rugby superstar and line-out specialist he became in his heyday and it was Meyer who made Matfield one of the finest rugby captains Loftus Versfeld has produced.
The only regret Matfield would have had upon his retirement was never getting the opportunity to play for the Springboks under Meyer.
Yes, concerns have been raised about Matfield’s age and whether his somewhat old and expected to be withering body can handle the knocks of modern day rugby?
Age ain’t nothing but a number and by the looks of Matfield’s conditioning during the Bulls training sessions, it seems as if his body is better equipped to handle the battering and collisions of Super Rugby and international rugby.
Matfield was never big on the rough stuff but rather it was his superior ability to know what the opposition will do at the line-out and react quicker than them, that made him such a lethal weapon for the Bulls and Springboks.
Truth be told, Matfield’s retirement two years ago left a massive void in the Bulls and Springboks second row, a void that is yet to be filled.
There are hordes of talented locks within the country but many of them are too young and none of them possess the intellectual capacity and strong leadership qualities that Matfield has.
Let Matfield come back and play, the Bulls will only be too grateful to have him back and if, indeed, he proves to have not lost much physically then there is no reason why he can’t be a Springbok again.
Matfield has lost none of that line-out acumen, in fact, his time as a coach and television analyst will have enhanced his knowledge and insight on the game and how he can help evolve it again.
Matfield’s return will be good for the career of other aspiring locks as well.
(By Jacques van der Westhuyzen)
Arguably one of the greatest locks to play the game, Matfield is a legend; but now he’s putting that reputation on the line by returning to the game.
It’s been over two years since the 36-year-old last played competitive rugby and one’s got to seriously question the merits of his decision to come out of retirement. In fact, he should not be playing again, but rather be concentrating on his coaching career.
Matfield may have stayed fit since his last match for the Springboks – at the 2011 World Cup – but is he match fit, will his body stand up to the rigours of Super Rugby and international rugby? He has conceded his biggest challenge will be the recovery process after games. It is a fact the older one gets the tougher it is to bounce back from the hits, tackles and general roughness of rugby.
It has also been said Matfield will be used sparingly at the Bulls in Super Rugby, with consultation between himself, the Bulls and the Boks determining how much he plays. Is this preferential treatment and favouritism and, if so, what does that do for team morale when one player can dictate the terms of the number of hours he plays?
Another matter that’s been put forward for Matfield coming back into the game is the supposed shortage of locks in South Africa. Bok boss Heyneke Meyer has spoken at length about it, but I don’t believe it for a minute. Eben Etzebeth was given a chance at 20 years of age and excelled at Test level. Pieter-Steph du Toit is ready to take his place alongside him and the longer he plays second-fiddle to someone else (Matfield), the longer it’ll take for him to reach his full potential. Why not back Du Toit now, as Etzebeth was backed? Andries Bekker, currently in Japan, must surely still be an option (for the World Cup), while Lood de Jager at the Cheetahs has grown immensely in the last year and deserves a chance. And then there’s still Flip van der Merwe, Franco van der Merwe and Juandré Kruger. And who knows who might stick up their hand this year.
Picking Matfield, who’ll be 38 by the next World Cup, ahead of these men is surely curtailing the development of several good locks. And, let’s be honest, as good as Matfield was during his career, was he still a major force in 2011 when he retired?
Many have argued Jake White successfully got Os du Randt to return to the game in 2003/04, but we mustn’t forget Du Randt retired at 27 in 2000, returned at 31 and played his last Test at 36. Matfield is now 36.
There’s a reason why Matfield retired in 2011. He felt he’d done his bit and it was time to move on, to allow the younger generation their opportunity. At his age, and considering we’re talking about full contact sport, there can’t be too many success stories of comebacks that end on a high.
Matfield will almost certainly be targeted between the four white lines in the coming months, his every move will be scrutinised and his body will be under constant threat. He’s taking a big gamble, one that could backfire badly.