Cape Town – It may be very much an away game for South
Africa, but when they tackle England on Saturday, Victor Matfield will almost
certainly be the starting player across both line-ups boasting the longest Test
association with Twickenham.
The teams were yet to be revealed at the time of writing,
but the Springboks’ 37-year-old lineout maestro will be stretching his active
presence at the hallowed venue to 13 years, having made his first international
appearance there as far back as November 2001.
Matfield has certainly stood the test of time when you
peruse the line-ups from that day, for a clash comfortably won 29-9 by the
hosts in a period when the Boks weren’t exactly taking the world by storm.
England were led by Martin Johnson – like second-row rival
Matfield, later to become a World Cup winner – and their cause was greatly
aided by flyhalf wonderboy Jonny Wilkinson banging over seven penalties.
Wilkinson was the most recent of that victorious England XV
to retire from first-class rugby – earlier this year while with Toulon –
although he had ended his Test career as far back as 2011.
Matfield, meanwhile, will also be the only still-active
member of that 2001 Bok side at “Twickers”: he was partnered at lock by 1995
World Cup winner Mark Andrews.
For interest’s sake, these were the other Springbok surnames
from the starting combo: Jantjes, Paulse, Halstead, Van Straaten, Hall, Koen,
Van der Westhuizen, Skinstad (capt), Venter (AJ), Vos, Meyer, Smit, Le Roux.
The scrumhalf then, Joost van der Westhuizen, is seriously
ill with motor neurone disease at age 43 but has been in London this week
raising awareness of the condition and visited the England squad in training
for Saturday’s fixture; he also attended Sunday’s game between Saracens and
Currie Cup champions Western Province.
Matfield was 24 at the time and earning his seventh Test cap
for the Boks; his tally now stands at a record 118.
He has played four Twickenham Tests against England, losing
the first two (including a later 32-16 defeat in 2004) but then sampling
victory twice: the famous 42-6 thumping of the hosts in 2008 and 21-11 in 2010.
His overall record against them is nine matches, with six
victories and three defeats.
The great tight forward confirmed in a British newspaper
interview this week that the World Cup next year was definitely intended as his
last playing involvement of any kind, and that he had signed new two-year
coaching terms with the Bulls thereafter.
He was their forwards and attack coach in Super Rugby 2013
during his two-year time out from the game as a player.
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