Cape Town - In an exclusive interview, former Springbok
lock VICTOR MATFIELD chats hanging up
his boots, why Heyneke Meyer is one of the best coaches
in the world and the Bulls v Stormers match on Saturday.
asked: From a shy boy from Pietersburg to a world star. How would you describe
Matfield: It’s been a crazy and highly memorable
journey. I was just an average Joe from a small town and I don’t feel that I
was ever the most talented rugby player. However, I believe my love for the
game and work ethic led to my longevity and allowed me to earn 127 Test matches
for the Springboks between 2001 and 2015. My motto has always been that “champions
train when others rest” and it’s not always the guy with the most talent who is
successful. You have to possess the desire to work harder than anyone else and
be prepared to put in the hours. I was able to play until the age of 39 because
I loved the game and didn’t see hard work as sacrifice. I must also add that
the unconditional support I received throughout my career – firstly from my parents
and later from my wonderful wife, Monja and children – proved a real source of
inspiration from which I drew.
asked: You spent your final season as a player with the Saints. How was that
Matfield: I learnt a lot from my season with
Northampton Saints, but it also proved a frustrating time for me. I went over
to the UK with the notion that we would spend some quality time together as a
family. However, I ended up spending most of my alone, which wasn’t the easiest
experience. My girls really missed seeing their friends in South Africa and
playing their favourite sports so they returned home with my wife. While it was
challenging for me on a domestic front, I enjoyed a different rugby environment
and took some mental notes for if and when I return to the world of coaching. Owing
to the conditions in the UK, where the weather is wet for 80% of the season and
the pitches are in poor condition, they scrum and maul for penalties and almost
don’t use the set-piece as a platform from which to attack. The tempo is much
quicker in Super Rugby than the Aviva Premiership, but both competitions have
strong points. I hope to share my learnings if and when the opportunity arises
for me to return to coaching. I was signed on at the Bulls for another three
years, but things didn’t work out the way I thought they should so I missed out
in terms of that coaching opportunity. Once you are out of coaching, it can prove
difficult to get back into it, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. For
now, I’m focusing on interests outside of rugby.
asked: Heyneke Meyer has been linked with a move to Bath. What value would he
Matfield: Heyneke is one of the best coaches in the
world so it would be great to see him back in the fold. For my money, he would
prove an asset for any team and if a club wants someone to sell them a vision,
for say the next six years, then he’s their man. Not only is Heyneke a
successful man-motivator, but the way he put systems in place and develops an
organisation from the bottom-up is really impressive. I believe his biggest
strength is his ability to build a sustainable project which allows a team to
be successful over a long period of time. He did that when he was in charge at
the Bulls and could do something similar at another club if afforded the
necessary time and resources. He has
very strong beliefs in terms of how things should work within a rugby set-up.
He has a real focus on fitness, skill-levels and developing young players in
order to create long-term sustainability.
asked: With Allister Coetzee at the national helm, can we expect a different
style of play?
Matfield: I believe people talk too much about
different playing styles. For me, rugby has always been about decision making.
For example, one day you might have to kick 50 times in a match and on other
occasions you might only have to kick twice. The Lions play a fantastic brand
of rugby and I love watching them, but there are times when they play too much
rugby. Meanwhile, there have been some matches where the Bulls have played the
game too slowly. Therefore, it’s all about decision making on the day and, as
coaches, we have to upskill our players so that they are capable of playing any
type of game and able to make the correct decisions at the right times. That is
where New Zealand is in front of everyone else at the moment. And in terms of
skill-level, the Kiwi forwards can probably pass the ball just as well as their
backs. If we want to play a game in SA whereby our players are able to pass and
offload, we must focus on skills-training from a young age.
asked: The Bulls have signed Jacques Potgieter from the Sharks. A smart bit of
Matfield: Yes, he is quality player. In the old
days, I remember he was all about physicality, but since his two-year stint
with the Waratahs he has more strings to his bow. He grew as a player and person
during his spell in Australia and I was really impressed with how he
communicated and organised on the field. Potgieter is now a more complete rugby
player and it will be very interesting to see how the Bulls are going to
utilise him when he returns to full fitness and is ready for selection.
asked: You formed a potent lock partnership with Bakkies Botha. Why did you
complement each other so well, and could Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit
do the same?
Matfield: I believe Bakkies and I were so
successful as a lock combination because we were completely different players.
My weaknesses were his strengths and his weaknesses were my strengths. With
Bakkies in the team, I didn’t have to worry about anything – I could just focus
on running the lineout and captaining the side. He would sort out anyone that
got too close to me. While Eben has settled himself into the N0 4 Bok jersey,
in my opinion, Pieter-Steph has to compete with Lood de Jager for the N0 5
jumper. Last season, De Jager was outstanding whenever he played for club and
country. Many people are excited to see Etzebeth and Du Toit combine at lock for
South Africa, but I feel that they’re pretty much the same type of player. If I
was asked to select a lock pairing, I would prefer it if the one player fulfilled
the physical, ball-carrying role and hit the rucks, while the other lock played
a bit wider, focused on the lineouts and really ran that part of the game.
asked: The Bulls host the Stormers at Loftus on Saturday. Offer your outlook
for the game.
Matfield: While the pack of forwards will be very
important in setting the tone, and I will keep a close eye on Etzebeth, Du Toit
and RG Snyman, who has been playing really well, I believe the contest could
rest on the decision making at ten. Both teams boast fairly inexperienced
flyhalves at Super Rugby level. How Francois Brummer and Jean-Luc du Plessis
control the game will prove pivotal to the overall outcome. I am heading to
Loftus on Saturday along with a few of my mates. And, for what feel like the
first time, I’ll be able to enjoy the match without stressing about anything.
Jean de Villiers