Johannesburg – Opinion is divided over whether one-time lord of the locks Victor Matfield should come out of retirement and lead South Africa in a three-Test home series against England this June.
World Cup-winning former Springbok coach Jake White says the move “would make sense”, while Johannesburg-based ex-British and Irish Lions scrum-half John Robbie disagrees.
Retired Springbok legends Frik du Preez, Naas Botha and Wynand Claassen believe it may be too late for 34-year-old Matfield to get match-fit ahead of Tests in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth on consecutive Saturdays.
Award-winning rugby writers Dan Retief and Gavin Rich have also expressed concerns after new Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer admitted he had asked 110-cap Matfield to consider wearing the green and gold again.
Meyer and Matfield were coach and captain respectively of the Northern Bulls provincial team that has been a dominant force in South Africa and the southern hemisphere for many seasons.
“If it were not Heyneke asking me I would not even consider it,” said Matfield, who now divides his time between consultancy work with the Pretoria-based Bulls and analysing Super 15 matches for the SuperSport TV channel.
Hooker and captain John Smit and vice-captain Matfield retired after South Africa made a last-eight exit from the 2011 Rugby World Cup and flankers Schalk Burger and Juan Smith were considered the main captaincy candidates.
But Western Stormers skipper Burger has not played since being injured two months ago on the opening weekend of the Super 15 and injury-prone Central Cheetahs captain Smith was last in action almost a year ago.
The retirement of Matfield and moves abroad by fellow Bulls Bakkies Botha to France and Danie Rossouw to Japan has left South Africa needing new locks and first choice Andries Bekker of the Stormers has a back injury.
Meyer believes recalling Matfield could give him experience and leadership while stressing he will probably name his captain for the England series only on the Monday before the June 9 first Test.
Australian Brumbies coach White told reporters after a narrow defeat by the Bulls last weekend at Loftus Versfeld that “it would make sense for Meyer to select Matfield”.
“It worked wonders when I brought back Os du Randt and Percy Montgomery in 2004 and having Victor around for a bit of stability is probably the right decision for Heyneke.”
Robbie is a radio talk show host known for hard-hitting views and he believes Matfield should be involved with the two-time world champions as a coach rather than as a player.
“If Victor is selected the message sent to the world is that we do not have replacements for him and this is nonsense,” wrote the Johannesburg Star columnist, “as we have young locks coming out of the woodwork.
“There is no way Victor will be around in three years’ time. We have a chance to make a new beginning with a new team on and off the field. Almost every province has big, strong, talented locks itching for a chance to move up.”
Former lock Du Preez told the Sunday Times: “If it is the right thing only he (Matfield) can decide, but I believe he should already have started to play some rugby. Being fit and rugby-fit are different things.”
Botha agreed: “If he is going to play again he better make it quick. He has to start playing again. I’m not sure it is a risk worth taking for Heyneke Meyer at the outset of his tenure as Springbok coach.”
Retief said a Matfield recall would be seen as a slap in the face for Bekker and other outstanding young locks such as Flip van der Merwe and Juandre Kruger (Bulls), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers) and Franco van der Merwe (Golden Lions).
Rich noted in the Star that while Matfield led the Springboks to notable triumphs in Dunedin (2008) and Twickenham (2010), he was also the leader who proved so tactically inept when losing in Scotland two years ago. – Sapa-AFP