Matfield deserves top honour
The SA Rugby Awards evening has been around for years and tonight’s function at Gold Reef City outside Johannesburg will again bring closure to a season of highs and lows.
Normally the event is held just before the Springboks embark on their November tour to Europe with the whole touring party in attendance. There is normally anticipation in the air as the Boks are about to go for a Grand Slam or attempting to beat Ireland and France in the space of two weeks. Normally you have the excitement of new caps on tour and everyone is generally keen to be around the team.
This year, of course, we have none of that.
With no tour this year, the Boks are home for almost a month now and with the Currie Cup final done and dusted, the Awards evening will have a different feel to it, no doubt.
In 2007 of course, we also had the after-glow of our glorious victory in France and there was a lot of back slapping, champagne and a general feel good feeling.
This time around, the mood will be very different and a lot of goodbyes will be passed around.
It is hard to believe that one would have a SA Rugby function without John Smit around, as the now former Bok captain has been for more than a decade. Smit has already left for Saracens and their quest for consecutive English Premiership titles and maybe some Heineken Cup glory.
Will we see him fly in for a last time? I certainly hope so.
SA Rugby did publish official goodbyes to Smit and Victor Matfield soon after their Rugby World Cup departure, but somehow it would be fitting to say goodbye to them at the official awards evening.
Matfield will be there of course and is indeed one of the five nominees for the main award, the SA Player of the Year.
I for one, really hope he finally gets the big award. He has been nominated how many times and has won other, smaller awards such as Super Rugby Player of the Year, but has always been bridesmaid for the ultimate accolade in SA Rugby.
He will face stiff competition from Bismarck du Plessis and Schalk Burger of course. Du Plessis was sensational in 2011 and played his guts out for the Sharks and the Springboks (when allowed to do so). Burger was monumental during the World Cup, putting his body on the line for his country time and time again. And let us not forget about his fine form for the Stormers, who after all, made the semi-finals of Super Rugby.
We should not discard the claims of Pat Lambie and Francois Hougaard either, as both have shown tremendous progress in their international careers and who in future, no doubt, could dominate this category. Somehow, I feel, this year will be a bit early for them.
This brings me to Matfield and his chances of winning.
Of course, there is some bias and emotion in my thinking that Matfield deserves this one.
I have been working with Matfield, as Bulls captain and player, on a daily basis for almost a decade now and when on tour with the Boks, have also had ample opportunity to deal with the player.
We have had our differences, especially in the early years, but Matfield will be the first to admit that he was a bit temperamental back then.
It has been a privilege as a rugby writer to work with Matfield. He was a true professional on and off the field and never lost his integrity. Often, during difficult and troubled times, he was under pressure as a captain and as a player, but he never blamed others for that.
In private, he would often talk freely about the reasons for defeats, but as captain of his team, he refused to go name calling and play the blame game. Despite that, he was brutally honest about shortcomings during the game and never excused himself when fingers pointed at him.
He was of course, very proud of his lineouts and when he lost that battle, as he did against the Irish in 2009, he was the first to admit that he was not good enough on the day.
It seems that Matfield will not be lost to our game and that he is keen to stay involved and become a coach. This is the best news of the year.
If the former lock manages to install the same values to the teams he coaches that those he lived by as a player, rugby will be in a good place. And I have no doubt that he will be able to do that.
I actually wanted to say goodbye and thanks to Matfield, but now realise there is no need. So allow me say, welcome to another side of the game Victor. And enjoy!
Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.
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