Springboks

Operation Victor seems over

2012-05-04 09:59
Victor Matfield (Gallo)
Cape Town - There is arguably no special harm in Heyneke Meyer throwing out the occasional red herring to the media - in the off-chance that is what he has been doing - around his plans for his maiden series as Springbok coach against England next month.

Politicians and their spin doctors do it all the time, so why not in the somewhat more trivial world of ball games?

Nor can the Bok mastermind be blamed for keeping his options as open as possible ahead of the three-Test June series: after all, he and his senior lieutenants face arguably the most complicated national rugby team selection of South Africa’s post-isolation era.

I would suggest that even the first Bok side which played New Zealand and Australia when the green light returned for them in 1992 was easier to compile in some senses: players didn’t turn out in first-class combat nearly as often as they do nowadays so injuries were far less of a bugbear, pretty much everybody with Test credentials was home-based rather than scattered in leagues across the globe, and there had not been the spate of retirements by core campaigners experienced much more recently.

It was relatively simple: Currie Cup form at the time went quite some way to dictating the Bok side, and many of us naively thought our domestic game was in such robust health that we would come back and immediately rule the roost anyway (that took just a wee bit longer).

Meyer has it pretty awful on this occasion: the walking-wounded toll is only rising in the middle of the Super Rugby campaign, he does not have the luxury of even one “soft” warm-up Test against a Canada or an Italy, and to further cloud the picture there are two hard-core local derbies the very Saturday before his team must emerge from the Durban tunnel against England.

Against that backdrop, the possibility that lineout legend Victor Matfield, with whom he has shared many triumphs over the years, might come out of retirement on a short-term basis, and possibly as experienced, assuring captain of a significantly new-look crew, didn’t sound too crazy a few weeks ago.

But unless he is hiding a cleverly-disguised bombshell beneath his pillow, Meyer certainly seems to be making wise noises of late suggesting “Operation Victor” is just not going to be a feasible scenario.

Perhaps the only reason to suggest he has not totally shelved the idea – and he reiterated to a large media group on Thursday that “I’ve never made a statement about Victor” – is his continued concern (among certain other positions, mind) that No 5 locks are currently in relatively short supply.

It is a situation heightened by his slightly worrying admission that towering Stormers man Andries Bekker is “carrying a slight injury”: something that often seems the case with the freakish 2.08m player.

But you also have to suspect now – I know I do! – that a sensational Matfield call-up looks increasingly a foolish prospect.

Just maybe, Meyer was hinting as much when he said into a formidable array of voice recorders at the Sports Science Centre in Newlands that he had been “impressed by the great leaders” he had encountered in his regional camps at the various Super Rugby franchises.

Jean de Villiers, just about ready to return to the helm of the Stormers, was one he especially singled out, so naturally his name swiftly started featuring nationwide as lead headline on sports pages and websites regarding the Bok captaincy shortly.

Time, surely, counts very heavily now against Matfield – who incidentally turns 35 next Friday – vaulting dramatically back into the top-flight picture.

Not too long ago, rumours had it that he might be linked to a convenient short-term deal with either the Cheetahs or Sharks, which would simultaneously serve as his limber-up for a possible Test comeback.

This has clearly not materialised, and both outfits now have only seven matches between them (Sharks four, Cheetahs three) after this weekend’s Super Rugby round before the Test window period.

Matfield returning at this juncture? It just looks more and more of an eccentric prospect, and would only be a quite spectacular vote of no-confidence in the various, active locks who do feel they offer worthy credentials of their own to the Bok cause.

And I fancy Heyneke Meyer knows it.

Big Vic looks increasingly at ease in his role as an analyst for SuperSport, among other off-field duties, his increasingly greying beard giving him a sagely, pipe-and-slippers kind of look to only enhance his television image.

Unless he is secretly doing some hellish, beef-up Kamp Staaldraad all of his own, between bouts of media and other work, the thought of him sneaking, hey presto, into a Bok tight five off a bicycle or the golf course to take on an England side traditionally renowned for a physical pack if not a whole lot else right now, does seem only the stuff of comic books.

Knock me down with a feather if my take is wrong ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  victor matfield  |  heyneke meyer  |  rugby
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