Victor Matfield will never forget the derisory attention given to him by Cape Town and Durban crowds after Tri-Nations defeats this year, and there is no question that he is pleased to return the captaincy reins to John Smit for Saturday’s Test match against Wales in Cardiff.
“I am delighted to have John back, and I don’t care what position he plays,” Matfield said with a smile that reflected both reverence and relief, according to Mike Greenaway of IOL.
“He means so much to this team. He is an awesome captain, quite possibly the best the Springboks have ever had,” he said, and Matfield knows only too well the highs and lows that go with the position.
He captained the Boks to a historic win over the All Blacks in Dunedin, and to a 53-8 rout of the Wallabies in Johannesburg.
But in between he suffered the humiliation of being booed at the Absa Stadium after a defeat by Australia, and he was severely criticised after the Boks failed to score a point at Newlands against the All Blacks.
Smit will captain an exceptionally strong forward pack from tight-head prop in a match that senior Boks are now openly describing as a vital curtain-raiser to the Lions tour next year.
There had initially been caution about “getting too far ahead of ourselves”, as Smit put it, but they have given up kidding themselves.
“The Lions tour is why I came back from club rugby in France,” Matfield said, echoing the words of John Smit earlier in the week.
“It only comes around every 12 years, and I am not going to miss it if I can help it. And with the Rugby World Cup occurring more regularly (every four years), a Lions tour is a very close second to it because it is so rare,” Matfield said.
“We only have these three tour matches ahead of the first Test against the Lions, so how can they not be anything but vital?” the Bulls captain asked.
The importance of Saturday’s Test is put into sharp perspective when you consider that Wales coach Warren Gatland will be Lions coach Ian McGeechan’s assistant. Also on the Lions’ management team are the Wales defence and attack coaches, Shaun Edwards and Rob Howley respectively. Furthermore, Wales captain Ryan Jones is favoured to captain the Lions, and 10 Welshmen have been tipped for inclusion in the squad.
Softly spoken Springbok flank Juan Smith expressed a big opinion on the importance of beating Wales.
“In the Tri-Nations we played some very good rugby, and also some of our worst for many a year,” Smith said.
“We ended off very well against the Wallabies, and obviously that form must now continue into this match. We must end this year on a high. We don’t want to start a Lions year on the back foot.”
Bryan Habana said Saturday’s Test was a “stepping stone to the Lions”.
“From the point of view of the backs, we need to start scoring tries consistently,” he said. “We have a very good pack of forwards, and while they have a responsibility to provide us with a good ball, we have an equal responsibility to turn it into points or to lay a foundation so that the pack can go forward.”
The Boks had the day off yesterday, and spent the day at the Celtic Manor golf course.Tweet