Mbombela - Last week Victor Matfield swept away any remaining reservations about his ability to make a successful return to international rugby, but his outstanding showing against Wales at Kings Park could yet pale into insignificance in comparison with what is to come, the supersport.com website reports.
So says Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, who seemed surprised at the team announcement press conference ahead of Saturday’s return match against the Welsh here in Nelspruit that it took so long for journalists to get around to ask a question about Matfield. The lock plays his record breaking 112th Test for the Boks this week as he continues to rack up the milestones in an extraordinary career.
Perhaps the relegation of Matfield down to among the last questions is a reflection of how the 37-year-old makes the remarkable seem so unremarkable, as if it was just another day at the office. But he did need a big game to dispel the remaining doubts, and last week he delivered in all departments, not just the lineouts.
“Victor has made a huge improvement since his first game back at Super Rugby level and is now the Victor of old again,” said Meyer.
“He was brilliant last week, and this is a great way to honour him. It is all about the team for Victor, and not about records, but although the players are always going out to play for the country, and not an individual, I believe they will be really motivated to do well for him on Saturday. He has a knack of getting the best out of the team.
“Everyone knows about his lineout work, but what I don’t think a lot of people realise is how important his contribution is when fielding the kick-offs. That was an area where New Zealand were better than us last year, but as we saw this past week, Victor is able to cover a big area in dealing with the kick-offs. He puts in a lot of tackles as well, and is just an unbelievable leader who leads by example both on and off the field.”
Meyer, who was instrumental in Matfield’s growth to becoming an international player when he coached him early in his career at the Bulls, admitted that when Matfield first came back into the game he never envisaged him playing more than a couple of games off the bench.
“I said to Victor that his comeback mustn’t be about records or anything like that. I wanted him to help out by coming off the bench, and now he is playing 80 minutes and is captain. I am very proud of what he has achieved and think it is remarkable that he can come back so well after two years in retirement. It is a storybook ending for him, although hopefully it isn’t the end because I expect a lot more from him.”
Meyer doesn’t believe that Matfield’s progress has reached its ceiling, and he expects his level of performance to rise as the quality of the opposition and the level of the challenge increases.
“I think Victor can get better. He is the type of player who once he has made the step up to the level he is now, can only get better. And some quality players just shine like diamonds when they are playing in big matches against top opposition. I think he will get steadily better and I expect that he will reach his peak this year when we play against New Zealand and Australia in the Rugby Championship.
Saturday's second Test against Wales in Nelspruit kicks off at 15:00.
15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Flip van der Merwe ,3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Gurthrö Steenkamp, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Wynand Olivier, 23 Lwazi Mvovo