Victor Matfield (Gallo Images)
Guildford - When Victor Matfield decided to drag his battered body out of retirement last year it was an occasion such as Saturday's Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand that persuaded him to take that long, hard and often painful road back to fitness.
Already a veteran of three World Cups and man-of-the-match in the Springboks' triumph over England in the 2007 final, Matfield bowed out after the 2011 tournament with his place as one of his country's greatest players already secure.
After a couple of years of coaching and punditry, however, he was happy to accept coach Heyneke Meyer's request that he return to the fold and help to build the national team towards this year's tournament.
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The imposing lock has been used sparingly on the pitch and has rolled back the years on occasion - most notably in last year's Johannesburg victory over the All Blacks.
But he looked every day of his 38-and-a-half years, complete with greying beard, in the shock defeat by Japan at the start of the pool stage and then damaged a hamstring in the second game against Samoa.
Many observers thought that might be the end for Matfield, but he has worked hard on his rehabilitation and was named among the replacements on Wednesday for the semi-final at Twickenham, where he will win his 126th cap.
For one of the greatest locks the game has produced, it might be considered something of a snub to be warming the bench, but that is not how either coach or captain view it.
"From day one, wherever we need him, he has been ready to serve," Meyer said after including Matfield in an otherwise unchanged match-day squad.
"If that's playing, coming on as an impact (replacement), grooming the youngsters or just (being) part of the team and keeping the bags, he's happy to help.
"He's been an unbelievable servant of Springbok rugby and we're proud to have a guy like that, especially on the bench as it makes a great difference to us to have a leader and a great player there at the end."
With nothing to prove, other than that he can still hold his own among the young bucks, Matfield is revelling in being part of his sport's showcase event one last time.
"I came back to be at the World Cup," he told reporters. "I believe this is a team that can win the World Cup and I want to be part of it.
"After a frustrating few weeks with my hamstring I'm really excited to be involved again. The team have been performing really well and I feel I can add something."
Matfield could yet be promoted to the starting XV if Lood de Jager fails to recover from a foot injury, but the man who said he would not be able to last 80 minutes could have most impact coming on for the final quarter.
"If you look at all the big games, especially between South Africa and New Zealand, it's going down to the wire every time," said Matfield, who has faced the All Blacks a remarkable 26 times, winning nine.
"Every time it's within five or six points with two or three minutes to go. That last 10 minutes is very important. It's all about composure, doing the right things and keeping your calm.
"The last 10 or 15 minutes will be crucial on Saturday. I'm 100 percent sure of that."
Saturday's clash at Twickenham is scheduled for 17:00 (SA time).
15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez (captain), 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jan Serfontein