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Matfield likely to plug Bok gap

2015-09-27 18:32
Victor Matfield (Gallo Images)

Birmingham – Logic suggests that Victor Matfield will answer the Springbok ‘SOS’ on the captaincy front for the remainder of RWC 2015 ... although the national squad is blessed with an array of already-proven leaders.

The need for someone to step into the breach has come about because of the latest, wretched dose of ill-fortune to Jean de Villiers, who fractured his jaw – again – in the dying stages of the slick 46-6 triumph over Samoa at Villa Park here on Saturday.

It was a Bok career-ending mishap for the brave, perpetual hoodoo-wrestling 34-year-old, who had already said well before the tournament that his international chapter, which began back in 2002, would definitely close at the England-hosted event.

Matfield is the vice-captain and pack leader, even more experienced than De Villiers in Test appearance terms (125 caps, the SA record) and was pointedly, you could well argue, at the side of coach Heyneke Meyer for the post-match press conference on Saturday while De Villiers went off to get his gloomy, utterly undeserved X-ray verdict.

The 38-year-old global legend of lineout play had been under pressure, like De Villiers, ahead of the Samoa clash to perform strongly after the Boks’ nightmarish pool-opening loss to Japan in Brighton last weekend – and both seasoned characters rose to the latest occasion admirably.

Matfield is still feeling healthy heat from young revelation Lood de Jager for the No 5 shirt – the Cheetahs favourite also offers sturdy front-lock credentials – but his alliance with in-form enforcer Eben Etzebeth was always touted in advance as the likely first-choice pairing in the second row for major matches at this World Cup.

The Boks lost nothing in lustre when De Jager replaced Matfield on 55 minutes against the Pacific Islanders, although the starter in the berth had made a defiant statement of his own with a much-improved display.

Matfield has long-time close associations with Bok coach Meyer, going back to glory days in Super Rugby with the Bulls; they certainly know in finest detail what makes each respective party tick.

If a minor surprise is to be sprung, others from the recognised “committee” of Bok leadership at this event, like Schalk Burger and Fourie du Preez, could be tasked with stepping into the De Villiers vacancy.

Burger is a real up-and-at-‘em character, which carries obvious pluses in terms of respect earned on the field of combat, and there is a certain daredevil quality to his leadership as well which can work to both advantageous and detrimental effect.

Meyer has previously recognised Burger’s skills as front-man: the Stormers/WP stalwart briefly became the 55th Bok captain in July, against the All Blacks in Johannesburg, when both Matfield and De Villiers were ruled out by injury.

Lurking just outside the most senior quartet of leaders in the current Bok squad, but offering solid CVs of their own to lead the green-and-gold troops, are other loose forwards Francois Louw – no stranger to running out first from the tunnel at English club Bath – and fit-again No 8 strongman Duane Vermeulen.

If not before, it has been reported that the player to take the reins from De Villiers will be named by Meyer on Wednesday, ahead of the next challenge against Scotland in Newcastle on Saturday.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing.

Rob is attending the Bok pool phase of RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.

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