I wanted Pieter-Steph at the Bulls
Victor Matfield's comeback from retirement has been met with mixed reaction. The sceptics claim it is an astronomical blunder that will harm his reputation. His advocates will tell you he can again reach the heady heights that once made him the world's best lock.
Matfield, by his own admission, knows that only time will tell. But, like a true champion, he is backing his ability to once again make valuable contributions to the Springboks and the Bulls.
Speaking to this website, after his first game back, Matfield said he is confident that he made the right decision.
Matfield, who played 30 minutes as a replacement in a pre-season outing against the Stormers in Polokwane at the weekend, said his fitness was fine and the body was coping well with the knocks.
The 36-year-old lock, who hopes to add to his 110 Tests and overtake former Bok captain John Smit (111) as the most capped South African, said he feels the current Bok side have all the attributes to become the best in the world and win the World Cup in 2015.
He said his body was "feeling good" after the run-out, adding that his fitness is as good as it ever was.
"I am happy with how it all transpired," Matfield told this website in an all-encompassing interview.
"My biggest concern was contact, given the long lay-off. I was very happy with how I defended and it went surprisingly well."
The veteran Bok said the game has changed a lot since he stopped playing after the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal loss to Australia.
"I have been part of [the] coaching [set-up at the Bulls], so the adjustments that were made I was part of," he said.
"In my head I know how I want us to attack and what we must do on attack, but I must get myself into those positions [during the game]."
He added that he has no problems with the pace and tempo of the game.
"The one aspect I have always been very happy with is my fitness," Matfield told this website, adding: "During the training sessions I always run near the front with the forwards. The pace [of the game] is not an issue for me - the big concern for me always was the contact."
Matfield also made no secret of the role Bok coach Heyneke Meyer played in his decision to return to the playing field.
"There is only one thing that drove me and that was [Springbok coach] Heyneke [Meyer], who spoke to me and said: 'If you are at your best I feel you can make a difference and have an impact at the Boks'."
And there is no doubt in his mind that winning the World Cup next year is well within the grasp of the Bok team captained by Jean de Villiers.
"I believe this is a fantastic Springbok team at present," Matfield said, adding: "I feel they have a very good chance to win the World Cup next year."
The fact that so many people he worked with at the Bulls are in the current Bok set-up, is another factor that influenced his decision.
"For all the management [at the national team] I have a tremendous amount of respect. Heyneke [Meyer] brought us up [at the Bulls], I worked for eight years with [Bok forwards coach] Johan van Graan at the Bulls."
And, as for the players in the current Bok squad, they are also all familiar faces.
"When I look at the players, they are mostly the guys I played with in the 2011 World Cup," he said of a squad that features all but a handful of players who played alongside Matfield in the 2011 World Cup quarterfinal loss to Australia.
Of that quarterfinal line-up, only captain John Smit (retired) no longer plays.
Lock Danie Rossouw has not featured in the Bok set-up since 2011, but still plays for Toulon, flank Heinrich Brüssow (currently injured) has also not had a look-in under Meyer but is playing for the Cheetahs and in Japan and No.8 Pierre Spies has been struggling to regain his place in the Bok squad since injuries started to limit his game time in the last two years.
Scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, centre Jaque Fourie and wing JP Pietersen were all recalled last year after stints abroad.
"They are guys for whom I have tremendous respect and it would be great to play with them again," Matfield said of the players.
"If you speak to a guy like Os du Randt, who won a World Cup [in 1995] and came back because he wanted to win another World Cup [which he did in 2007], you realise it can be done.
"The disappointment of 2011 was always in the back of my mind. I finished by losing in a quarterfinal, after we had won [the] Super Rugby [competition] the two previous years. It was an anticlimax.
"Heyneke [Meyer] has been speaking to me since 2012 to reconsider and play again.
"There were issues that prevented it [such as the IRB's six-month stand-down period and my coaching contract at the Bulls], but now the opportunity is there [for me to play again]."
Matfield said he has been in contact with a number of the players in the current squad and they all support his decision.
"I have had some good chats with [Bok skipper] Jean [de Villiers]," he said, adding: "I also had a nice chat with Bismarck [du Plessis] at the cricket [when the Boks played the Proteas in January].
"They are all very positive and believe I can make a difference.
"[Now] it depends on me, whether I am in the right condition and whether I can play at top level."
Matfield, like the true professional he is, said the team will always come first and if that means playing off the bench that is what he will do.
However, he knows that he will have to start a few games to show he is still Bok material.
"You first have to look at what is in the best interest of the team and then [after that] my goals," he told this website.
"One of the big issues of getting older is recovery. Your fitness and conditioning could be there, but you just take so much longer to recover.
"My game time will be strategically planned and systematically build it up.
"[However], if I want to come into consideration for the Boks I will have to start a few games and show I can play 80 minutes.
"I told Heyneke [Meyer] and coach Frans that I want a different role, whereby I help young locks like Pieter-Steph [du Toit] with the line-outs and help them with their future.
"If I play I want to be the best in the world again, otherwise it would be stupid for me to have made the comeback.
"I do believe I can still get there - be the best. There were certain aspects I was good at and what I want to get back to top level again. Hopefully I can control the line-outs, the restarts and bring something in those areas that can make a difference at the Boks and Bulls."
Matfield also had special praise for young Pieter-Steph du Toit, admitting he was the driving force in trying to lure the Sharks lock to Pretoria.
"We [at the Bulls] fought very hard [for his services]," Matfield said, adding: "I feel he is an incredible talent.
"It will be a great honour if I can make a contribution to his career. I was hoping to make a contribution here at the Bulls.
"I saw what impact a guy like Os [du Randt] had at the Boks, and even a guy like Bobby Skinstad, who did not play that much [in the victorious 2007 World Cup campaign]. However, those veterans with the additional experience add so much value to the squad.
"I will have to see what my role is, but I do want to be part of that World Cup squad," he said of the campaign in England next year.
By Jan de Koning