Schalk Burger and Victor Matfield in discussion during training (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The official line is that the
great Victor Matfield is still feeling some tightness in that 38-year-old
hamstring and was honest enough to concede as much to Springbok coach Heyneke
Meyer this week.
That may well be the 100 percent truth ...
and just made it so much easier for South Africa to take the sensible and probably
publicly-acclaimed step on Wednesday of retaining the youthful, dynamic lock
combination of Eben Etzebeth and Lood de Jager for Saturday’s World Cup
quarter-final against Wales at Twickenham (17:00 SA time).
Even so, it is irresistible to wonder what
would have occurred if Matfield had been deemed appropriately fit for
consideration, a situation only fuelled this week by 2003-winning England coach
Clive Woodward enthusing: “I would not be in any hurry to disrupt that
(Etzebeth/De Jager) combination.”
Interestingly, Meyer said in the official
release accompanying his match-day squad announcement that he had “planned to
use Victor from the bench”, suggesting that he was always going to stick to the
other pair as starters for the Wales clash regardless of Matfield’s state of
Now another relative spring chicken,
Pieter-Steph du Toit, still tipped for a bright future at international level
himself, has an opportunity as a substitute to show his worth in a
high-pressure clash if called to the fray at some stage.
Also to bear in mind is that Du Toit, 23,
offers greater versatility than Matfield does among the reserve arsenal, given
his ability to cover blindside flank as well as the second row.
What the Matfield no-show for Saturday
means is that there is a very real likelihood now that perhaps the most revered
of all lineout forwards in world rugby history has played his last Test match,
and will end with 125 caps (including 16 World Cup matches, a World Cup-winning
medal in 2007 and a total of 78 career victories from all his internationals –
win percentage 62.4).
If the Boks lose on Saturday, they fly home
in a rather depressing hurry, whilst if they win well, there could be no
compelling reason for Meyer to tamper with his mix for the semi-final (quite
probably against traditionally toughest foes New Zealand).
There would be an extra game, of course, if
South Africa do crack the last four but advance no further; the “bronze”
playoff between the two semis losers, and that might become a poignant occasion
for Matfield to take his leave of the Test stage if the Boks happen to play in
that contest on October 30 at the Olympic Stadium.
Matfield made his South African debut off
the bench against Italy at Port Elizabeth on June 30 2001, a thumping 60-14 Bok
triumph; Mark Andrews and current Lions coach Johan Ackermann were the
start-out locks that day.
It is quite feasible now that his final
appearance will prove to have been the 46-6 Pool B bounce-back victory over
Samoa at Villa Park recently, when that “hammie” flared again after an
assertive 55 minutes from the big man.
Ironically, we already know it is the game
that definitively signalled the end of the Test career of another SA icon, the
cruelly jinxed Jean de Villiers.
A wag in the office suggested that so deep has
been the injury-related volatility with regard to the Bok captaincy this season
that it is not beyond the bounds of possibility, if they safely negotiate the
quarter-final, that Matfield makes a dramatic return next weekend ... as
Me? I’m not betting on that scenario quite
I just fancy the mountain-bike beckons
invitingly once more for this durable rugby legend.
It will also open the door ever more
promisingly for a still hungry, try-prolific Bryan Habana, 32, to go past
Matfield’s record 125-cap mark; the flying wing is scheduled for his own 115th
appearance this weekend.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing