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Meyer: Matfield a 'true warrior'

Sun, 01 Jun 2014 16:21
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There are no guarantees
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Heyneke Meyer has defended his decision to lean on some overseas-based veterans, rather than throw more youngsters in at the deep end.

Speaking at a media briefing in Cape Town, ahead of the first international of the year, against a World XV on Saturday, Meyer said that he still believes that if a player is good enough his age doesn't matter.

Since he named a 36-man squad at the weekend - for the season-opener against the World XV at Newlands, as well as two Tests against Wales and a one-off international against Scotland - the couch critics have blasted a number of the selections.

The inclusion of players like Bakkies Botha, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Victor Matfield, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Gurthrö Steenkamp and Morné Steyn have been questioned by those so-called 'experts'.

Meyer, in defending the selections of those players coming back from abroad, said those players moved on and they are now superstars elsewhere in the world and are winning trophies.

However, he reserved his richest praise for the oldest of them all, the 37-year-old World Cup-winning and record-setting Bulls lock Victor Matfield.

Matfield, one of the front-runners to take over the captaincy from injured Springbok skipper Jean de Villiers for the June internationals, made his return to the game after a two-year retirement.

Although Meyer was giving nothing away, he did confirm that the captain would be revealed before the starting XV is announced on Wednesday.

"I am still thinking," Meyer told the media gathering at the team's Cape Town base, adding: "I don't want to make a hasty, or the wrong decision.

"I have almost made up my mind, but I have to speak to the relevant people and then make he call as soon as possible."

Asked if he was surprised at how well Matfield is playing after a two-year hiatus,

"Victor is an amazing athlete," he said, adding: "At training he was still the fittest in the Bulls squad.

"I knew it would only be a matter of time - he is a true warrior. I knew he would not come back just for a pension cheque - he would not have come back if he did not want to be he best."

Meyer confirmed that Matfield is in contention for selection.

"He has an amazing character and very  competitive and he has a true warrior spirit. He does have the experience, but sets him apart is that he is an amazing athlete. He also looked after his body very well - he didn't have a lot of injuries and will be a asset to any team. Any team in the world would like to have him available for them."

Asked about the Asked about the criticism over the selection of so many veterans, Meyer stood his ground.

"I believe if a player is good enough to win trophies, if he is still hungry to ply for his country and he is still the best in his position, he should be selected," the Bok mentor said.

"It doesn't matter how old or how young he is."

Meyer also said there are a lot of youngsters coming through.

"If you look at our squad, in every position there is a youngster as well," he said, adding that  you need a good balance in every team.

"I feel there is a good balance in this team, but if you look at the World Cup, the teams that won it had plenty of experience.

"When England won the World Cup a large chunk of their team was between 32 and 35.

"I feel that if a player is good enough, I don't care how old he is - as long as he is prepared to put his body on the line for his country and his teammates around him.

"There is a good balance of youth in the squad as well, but you do need the experience that bring that calmness."

Meyer also spoke about the injuries that have ravaged his lock resources.

"We are really in trouble at No.5 lock - that was my concern right from the start.

"People said I should move on with Eben [Etzebeth] and Pieter-Steph [du Toit], two players I rate very highly. However, neither of them are available.

"You can't just, every year, get a new teams and start building a new team.

"I believe those players have proven themselves and it is up to them to show they can still play at the highest level. There are no guarantees and I won't make it [the Bok jersey] cheap, the best guys will play.

"If they can prove they are the best they will play. You also do need some experience and if you look all over Europe, the guys [teams] that one are the experienced ones. Yes, a lot of those guys have been written off.

"However, you have to find the balance as well. Obviously there are great youngsters coming through and we'll select them, but in certain positions we are very thin at the moment."

By Jan de Koning

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