Matfield reveals his World Cup dream
Interim Springbok captain Victor Matfield is motivated by his burning desire to atone for the 2011 World Cup heartache. Jan de Koning reports.
Victor Matfield may be on the verge of setting a new record, but it is his burning desire to atone for the 2011 World Cup heartache that motivates him.
Matfield was confirmed as interim captain of the Springboks for their June internationals, in the absence of the injured skipper Jean de Villiers.
The 37-year-old lock will lead South Africa out in the non-cap international against a World XV at Newlands on Saturday and then in the Tests against Wales (Durban, June 14 and Nelspruit, June 21), before also taking on Scotland (in Port Elizabeth, June 28).
If Matfield does not get injured he will increase his Bok caps from 110 to 113 - taking him past former captain John Smit (111) as South Africa's most capped player.
However, that is not his motivating factor, nor is the fact that he could move up the list of most games as Bok skipper.
Matfield, addressing a media gather in Cape Town after being 'unveiled' as the skipper, said he is determined to be part of the Boks' World Cup campaign in England next year.
He said that when Heyneke Meyer was appointed as Bok coach in 2012, the SA national team mentor called him up to enquired about a comeback.
Matfield had quit the game after the Boks' controversial exit from the World Cup in New Zealand.
"I thought playing under him [Meyer] will be a great honour," Matfield told the media gathering.
"I was up or it then , but we just couldn't make it happen," he said of an IRB regulation that prevented his immediate return to the game.
"After the 2011 World Cup it was such a disappointment, because we didn't make the semifinals and did not win the World Cup.
"Hopefully I can play well enough to be there next year and make a contribution to help this team reclaim the Webb Ellis Cup."
Matfield said one of the driving factor in his decision to make the comeback, was to go to the World Cup.
"If I can't do that [go to the World Cup], it would have been stupid of me to come back," he added.
He also spoke of the "honour" and "privilege" to be back in the Bok team.
"Being captain is just amazing, especially working with coach Heyneke [Meyer]," he said of his long-time mentor.
Meyer, who first spotted Matfield as a teenager playing for the University of Pretoria age-group teams, described Matfield as "one of the best captains of all time".
And the respect is mutual.
"He [Meyer] is someone I have looked up to all my career," the veteran lock said, adding: "He has had a major input in my career."
He also felt that Meyer has assembled "one of the best Springbok teams that I have seen in a long time" and said it will be great to be part of it.
Meyer said for him it is "very important" that a captain fits into the team culture.
"We received a lot of praise for the way we conducted ourselves on and off the field the last two years," the coach said.
"We want to stick to that culture and I know Victor can do that.
"[That way] we will make a lot of friends and gain a lot of respect throughout the world.
"I want the team to be role models and to be humble and Victor fulfils that role."
Matfield also felt that having played a few more Super Rugby games than what was originally planned - the result of injury and suspension in the Bulls squad - could be a blessing in disguise.
"I think, having been out for two years, it took me a few games to be as sharp as I wanted to be," the lock said, adding: "The last two-three matches I felt as good as before my retirement. The body is feeling good."
He also felt that having had a look at the game from the sideline for the past two years - first as an analyst for a pay-TV station and then as an assistant coach at the Bulls - does not leave him at a disadvantage.
"As a coach, and the way coaches see things, that will help me a little bit.
"However, it feels like I never stopped playing. It is like Heyneke said, it is all about the team, all bout doing things for each other and that will never change.
"I have also been talking a lot to my good friend Fourie du Preez and the [Boks'] forwards coach Johan van Graan about how they see and think about the game, even last year when I was not playing.
"The Boks evolved their game quite a lot last year, averaging almost four tries per game.
"I think we will continue with that trend. We want to play a type of rugby that only the South Africans can play."
While Matfield never had doubt about his comeback, he admitted to being "nervous".
"When Heyneke [Meyer said he] was going to make the appointment last [Monday] night, I thought: 'Wow, am I doing the right thing?'
"I know there will be pressure and people will have opinions, because of my age.
"However, with the Bulls this year I enjoyed being the captain and I know there is a big responsibility.
"I said to the team the captain is just someone who runs out in front. We [the Boks] have a leadership core of about six guys, that will make the decisions together and I'll trust them.
"If I ask Bismarck [du Plessis] and he makes a call we'll back him - the same with Fourie [du Preez], who was with me through my whole career at the Bulls."
Meyer was also full of praise for his long-standing confidant.
"The great thing about Victor is, when I spoke to him, he said to me: 'Coach, I am here to serve the team'," the Bok coach told the media gathering.
"To him it didn't matter who the captain is. Whoever the captain is, he will follow him. To him, being captain is not the biggest thing in his life, he is here to make a contribution.
"For me that meant a lot, because that is what I expect of my captain, to serve the team."
Matfield said he is not holding back at training either.
"The thing about being older is you need to work a bit harder," he said, adding: "When I came back I made up my mind that I was going to work as hard as I can and do whatever it takes to be at my best."
By Jan de Koning