MPUMALANGA – Victor Matfield will become the most-capped Test player in the history of South African rugby when he leads the Springboks against Wales in his 112th Test match in Mbombela on Saturday.
Matfield made his Test debut on June 30, 2001 against Italy in Port Elizabeth and retired after the Rugby World Cup in 2011 on 110 caps, but has since made a successful return to the game earlier this year.
“This is a fantastic accolade for Victor,” Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said on Wednesday, after announcing his team to face the Welsh.
“He has been a terrific servant of the game in South Africa and has led his country with distinction since returning to the Green and Gold. When he returned to the game earlier this season, he set his goals on becoming a Springbok yet again and he’s worked extremely hard to get there. I don’t think anyone can doubt that he deserves his place in the team and he’s also been a great interim captain, with Jean de Villiers out injured.”
Matfield, who was also the most-capped Super Rugby player in South Africa, would captain a Springbok starting line-up sporting two changes from the team which beat Warren Gatland’s outfit 38-16 in Durban last week.
Both changes were in the forward pack, where Tendai Mtawarira returned as loosehead prop, with Gurthro Steenkamp reverting to the bench, while Flip van der Merwe would partner Matfield in the second row in place of Bakkies Botha.
The only other change to the team saw Wynand Olivier replacing the injured Johan Goosen on the bench.
Meyer said he resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to his victorious group of 23.
“I’ve always preferred to stick with a winning combination and the changes to the team were both part of our planning,” he said.
“The backline really performed well last weekend and we would like to give them another opportunity to play together, as there were a number of new combinations. The same applies upfront. Bakkies is fit for selection, but we decided to manage his workload this week and I know Flip, who has been outstanding in the last two seasons, will slot back in easily. The same goes for ‘Beast’, who upped the tempo with his work rate last weekend.”
Following a disappointing display from their visitors in Durban last weekend, Meyer expected a much improved performance at Mbombela Stadium.
“They’ve had another week together and will be keen to lift their game on Saturday, but at the same time we were not happy with certain aspects of our game and we’ve worked hard to rectify that. This is their last match of the season, so we’re expecting them to come out firing. But we also want to make a step up and ensure we keep on improving as the season progresses.”