Matfield returns to captain Springboks
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Victor Matfield was thrust straight back into South Africa’s test team to complete his return from retirement, as he was picked on Tuesday as stand-in captain for games against Wales and Scotland this month.
The 37-year-old lock returned to Super Rugby this season with the Pretoria-based Bulls and said he had been focusing on just trying to win a place back in the Springboks before center and regular captain Jean de Villiers was ruled out of the June internationals with a knee injury.
Matfield, who has played 110 tests, was chosen as skipper over scrumhalf Fourie du Preez and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, coach Heyneke Meyer said. He is set to play for his country for the first time in three years after he retired from all rugby following the 2011 World Cup.
Matfield said in a TV interview on Tuesday that his comeback will “be tested now.”
“To be firstly back in the team is amazing, now to get this honor is fantastic,” Matfield said. “Now I have to perform at the best level.”
Matfield, a 2007 World Cup winner, captained South Africa in 17 tests when he also filled in for then-regular leader John Smit.
He’ll lead the Boks against a World XV in Cape Town on Saturday, two tests against Wales, and one against Scotland, the South African Rugby Union said.
South African fans had been debating whether Matfield was worth a place in the team when he announced his return this year. He proved to be as reliable as ever in Super Rugby, and will wear his old No. 5 jersey in South Africa’s second row. Meyer, who had Matfield as his captain when he coached at the Bulls, had been trying to coax the vastly experienced lock out of retirement since 2012.
“Victor is someone who has the respect of all the players in our squad as well as world-wide in rugby,” Meyer said in a statement. “He’s achieved a lot and has always put the team’s interests first, while most of the players in our squad have already played under him.”
Meyer said du Preez and du Plessis, also World Cup winners, would be Matfield’s vice captains.
Matfield’s selection as captain is the latest sign that Meyer is trying to bring back the core of the South Africa team that won the world title in France seven years ago for next year’s World Cup. Since taking over, Meyer has also recalled scrumhalf du Preez, Matfield’s former lock partner Bakkies Botha, flanker Schalk Burger, and center Jaque Fourie, who all played in the 2007 World Cup final.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP