Matfield's Bok role now key
Brenden Nel - SuperSport
Johannesburg - Former Springbok captain Victor Matfield’s role ahead of this year’s international season has taken on a vital importance, especially with the season-ending injury to Cell C Sharks player Pieter-Steph du Toit.
According to the supersport.com website, Matfield, who starred in the Vodacom Bulls’ win over the Blues a fortnight ago, will now feature even more prominently in Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer’s plans for the upcoming season, especially with the dearth of five locks around the country at the moment.
In the Blues game – the second game in succession that Matfield started – he certainly looked like the Matfield of old, and not the 36-year old warhorse whose return to the field was roundly questioned across the country.
But the question now remains – just how should he be managed in the lead up to the international season, given he is a precious commodity at the moment in South African rugby?
The Bulls have not said it yet, but there certainly is a case for resting Matfield ahead of this weekend’s Vodacom Super Rugby match against the Sharks, especially as their original plan was not to play him much at all during the first part of the season.
Even coach Frans Ludeke admitted after the Blues win that Matfield’s form made it difficult for him not to pick him, especially given the way he has adapted to returning to the game and how he has played in the last two matches.
“I’m not sure,” Ludeke told supersport.com when asked after the Blues game how they hope to manage Matfield with the season still a long and hard road ahead.
“We will have to take it week by week,” was all he offered.
But it was an indication that the Bulls would have loved to play him every game, if they didn’t have to worry that he might break down halfway during the season.
The Bulls have the option this week, if Matfield is rested, to play Flip van der Merwe at five and bring in the young and physical Paul Willemse at four – the same combination they tried in the Durban game to open the season.
Grant Hattingh is also back and is an option, as is David Bulbring, who scored a try in the Vodacom Cup side’s loss to the Pumas this past weekend.
Either way, the plan was always to nurse Matfield through the season, play him sparingly that he may play a significant role in the international season for Meyer’s team. This is even more underlined at the moment as the big lock seems to be getting better with every game.
Meyer also has the likes of Franco van der Merwe to call on, while Juandre Kruger is playing some great rugby in France and deserves a second chance.
But other than that there aren’t too many candidates that are sticking their hands up at the moment, and the five jersey is one where Meyer knows what he wants to ensure a steady and top lineout in the international season.
The Bull should not be tempted to over play Matfield, whatever his form, and will know that sticking to their original plan may be a great way to ensure his longevity.
Thus don’t be surprised if he is given the weekend off when the Sharks hit Pretoria on Saturday, or if Ludeke decides against that, that he has a very limited role to play in the game.