Matfield on last hurrah in SA

2011-11-09 15:30
Victor Matfield (File)
Cape Town - We invited former Bok captain Hannes Marais to hand out the jerseys before the All Black Test, and he had a special message for us: ‘You are in the same position we were in after our tour of the British Isles in 1969/70, when we lost two Tests and drew two. We had our backs against the wall and the All Blacks were on their way to South Africa.’

We told ourselves exactly what the Boks told themselves 41 years ago: Each player had to believe in himself, because if he didn’t, how could his teammates or the nation believe in him? And we had to play for each other.

Well, the 1970 Boks beat the All Blacks 3-1 in that Test series, and that was the last time South Africa had played New Zealand in Port Elizabeth. Until now.

The message was very relevant. I was no longer convinced that the guys truly believed in themselves, and I was relieved that Oom Hannes had raised this point. The senior guys in the squad felt that it was time for the team to pull together, as we’d be leaving for New Zealand in only a few weeks’ time. We allowed our players a lot of freedom, but the senior players now decided that we would set the example in order to show the rest of the guys that the team always came first and that it could only perform successfully if we worked as a tight unit.

The bus ride to the stadium on the Saturday was very special to me. I didn’t want to make a big thing about it being my final Test in South Africa, but I struggled to keep my emotions in check. It was the last time I would ride in the team bus; we were on our way to play the All Blacks and I was captaining South Africa. We were also under immense pressure, but during the seven-kilometre drive from the hotel to the stadium, I once again realised what the Springboks meant to South Africa.

Everyone we passed (except the couple of All Black supporters, of course) cheered us on – whether they lived in shacks or in mansions. Most people didn’t care whether Victor Matfield, John Smit or Bryan Habana was on that coach; they were rooting for the Springbok emblem displayed on the outside. Although the Bok players also had their worries, problems and challenges, they brought hope to the people out there, a fact no Springbok should ever forget.

In South Africa, the national rugby team’s mission was always bigger than just being another successful sports team. I felt very strongly about this, as I believed we could contribute something meaningful to our country. Peter, too, had worked towards this goal during his tenure as Bok coach. We wanted to give the team back to the people, and I think we succeeded in doing so.

As a result, the Boks received spectacular support in Port Elizabeth, even though we knew that the All Blacks would have a great many people shouting for them too, mainly because a large number of coloured people had supported the team during the apartheid years.

The Test started at a hectic pace, and early on the All Blacks cut through our defensive line twice, but our cover defence stood strong. After the initial flurry, Morné Steyn kept the scoreboard ticking over with three successive penalty kicks from close to the halfway line, before adding a drop kick. The All Blacks were under pressure. We didn’t give them an inch to move, and in the end we won 18-5, with Morné scoring all the points.

We learnt something very important that day: Morné simply had to be our first-choice flyhalf. Before the match it had still been a toss-up between Butch and Morné, but afterwards it was clear that we couldn’t start a Test without Morné’s kicking abilities.

What a wonderful way to end my Test career in South Africa! Even though I’d pulled a hamstring early on in the second half, I managed to carry on playing till the end of the match, and afterwards I did a lap of honour to thank the fans – not just the faithful packing the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but everyone who had supported me over the past 10 years.

My first Test in the starting XV for the Boks had been way back in 2001, also against the All Blacks. To be able to look back as the Springbok with the most Test caps at that stage and the most Tests against New Zealand – and as captain on the day – once again made me so thankful for all the privileges and blessings I’d received.

Extracted from “Victor My Journey” by Victor Matfield with De Jongh Borchardt (Zebra Press) Available at all leading bookstores countrywide 14 November 2011

Read more on:    springboks  |  victor matfield

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