Matfield benched by Bulls
Matfield benched by BullsSHARE
Victor Matfield will make his return to Super Rugby off the Bulls bench against the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Matfield, coming back after two years in retirement, has played 30 minutes in a pre-season match against the Stormers.
If he takes to the field at Kings Park Matfield will become the second most capped Bulls player in Super Rugby history.
His 117 matches are only behind Morné Steyn (123).
He will also equal John Smit and AJ Venter (both 125 matches) as the most experienced South African player in Super Rugby – having played 117 for the Bulls and eight for the Cats.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke will look at his next generation Bulls players to deliver the goods in the Super Rugby season, after he named a youthful looking side to face the Sharks in the season's opening round in Durban on Saturday.
Regular captain Pierre Spies will lead a team on the field with a number of players on debut and a number of others with only a handful of caps, but will also have the luxury of Matfield on the bench.
Deon Stegmann (groin) failed a fitness test on Wednesday and was not considered, which will give Jono Ross a starting opportunity in the No.6 jersey.
His fellow flank Jacques du Plessis will play in the No.7 jersey for the first time after an appearance at lock in his Super Rugby debut in 2013.
Springbok scrumhalf Piet van Zyl, who joined from the Cheetahs, will play off the bench, as will Jacques Engelbrecht, who joined from the Southern Kings.
Ludeke was confident that he picked the right combinations for the opening match.
"We have identified certain areas where we will have to dominate and I think we have the right combinations in place to achieve that," Ludeke said.
"This is going to be a typical South African derby with a lot of focus on the breakdown and to dominate the advantage line," he predicted.
"We respect the Sharks, but if we are accurate and play our rugby in the right areas of the field, we should get some reward for that. Our focus will be to execute and to make sure that we protect our ball, as the Sharks will be keen to counter whenever we turn over possession."
On Matfield’s inclusion, Ludeke said: "We all know what Victor is capable of. He showed in training and our friendly match that he is still right up there amongst the best and I am confident that he will make a telling contribution when called upon."
Bulls captain Pierre Spies said his side does not mind the ‘underdog’ status in Durban.
"The Sharks should be one of the pre-tournament favourites. They have a lot of Springboks in their team, have loads of experience in the decision-making positions and will be playing in front of a very passionate crowd. This is exactly the type of challenges we like as a team and will go to Durban with a lot of determination and motivation."
Captain Pierre Spies said his side is ready for the enormous challenge awaiting them in Durban.
"We have some goals to achieve and worked hard to make sure we are ready to compete against any team at any venue. The younger guys in our team bring a lot of energy to our effort and I am pretty pleased to have them in my side, rather than playing against them," Spies added.
If they take to the field, Handré Pollard, Piet van Zyl, Jacques Engelbrecht, Ulrich Beyers and Marcel van der Merwe will all make their Bulls debuts.
Van Zyl (Cheetahs, 32 caps), Van der Merwe (Cheetahs, three caps) and Engelbrecht (Kings, 14 caps) have played for other franchises.
Francois Hougaard is one try away from 100 Super Rugby points.
Coach Frans Ludeke (116 matches) will extend his record as the most experienced South African Super Rugby coach. He will also be the most experienced coach in the competition across all franchises.
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Louis Fouché, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Flip van der Merwe, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Frik Kirsten, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Victor Matfield, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Piet van Zyl, 22 Handré Pollard, 23 Ulrich Beyers.
Date: Saturday, February 15
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 19.10 (17.10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Marius Jonker (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)