Matfield set to return to South African rugby

GERALD IMRAY
Last updated 07:06 18/01/2014

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Victor Matfield will return to top-level rugby in this year's Super Rugby and make himself available again for the Springboks, it is being widely reported in South Africa.

Numerous reports say the 2007 World Cup-winning lock, who has played 110 tests for South Africa, will end his two-year retirement to again represent the Pretoria-based Bulls in Super Rugby from next month. He will be 37 in May.

Matfield may also be considered for the Springboks, with national coach Heyneke Meyer a former coach of Matfield at domestic level with the Bulls and a big fan of the second-rower.

Neither the Bulls nor the South African Rugby Union are commenting on a possible return for Matfield but he has been photographed training with the Bulls playing squad at a preseason camp, strengthening speculation over a comeback which was first rumored in 2012, when Meyer indicated that Matfield's return would be welcome. Meyer has also recently shown his willingness to recall veteran players to the national team, although none as old as Matfield, who is a member of the Bulls coaching staff.

While Matfield's ability as one of the best lineout forwards to play was still undisputed when he retired at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, he is risking diminishing his legacy as a great if he's unable to match those towering standards when he returns to the highest levels of the physically demanding sport after a long absence.

"If (Victor) can play as he has in the past, it will be good news for South African rugby, but at his age it just gets harder and harder to compete at the same level," former South Africa lock Mark Andrews, a 1995 World Cup winner, told Die Burger newspaper. "And the 2015 Rugby World Cup is a long way away."

Matfield could surpass Johan Ackermann as the oldest Springbok in the modern era if he plays for South Africa in the southern hemisphere's Rugby Championship, which starts in August. Ackermann, the coach of the Johannesburg-based Lions, was also 37 when he played his last test in 2007. Ackermann backed Matfield's return, even for the next World Cup in Britain, when Matfield would be 38.

"Matfield is fit, athletic and his experience will add great value to the Springboks," Ackermann told the Afrikaans-language Die Burger. "I believe he is definitely still in Heyneke Meyer's Springbok plans. He offers Heyneke security going into next year's World Cup and is an ideal player to fall back on."

Yet there was also a warning from Ackermann that Matfield shouldn't hold up younger players, something that led to criticism of the national team and former coach Peter de Villiers when former captain John Smit was picked at hooker at the end of his career ahead of Bismarck du Plessis, who was widely considered to be a better player at the time.

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Some argue that the Springboks should be developing a partnership between young locks Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit for the World Cup rather than gambling on Matfield.

- AP

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