Legendary lock and line-out lynchpin Victor Matfield has once again bowed out of the game of rugby… this time, for good.
Matfield, who will turn 39 on Wednesday, first hung up his boots in 2011 following the Rugby World Cup, but was coaxed back into action in 2014 by then-Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer with an eye on the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Shortly before the start of the 2015 RWC, Matfield announced his plans to finish his career with English Premiership club Northampton Saints. “It is an honour for me to join the Northampton Saints,” he said at the time.
Seven years prior, Matfield was meant to have linked up with the Saints, but that never materialised and he was grateful for the renewed opportunity.
This time, however, he saw it through and almost seemed to have rediscovered an unadulterated love for the game during his stint with the Saints, with occasional deft touches of the ball that belied his veteran status.
Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder paid tribute to Matfield and his contributions to the club. “He’s been fantastic for us,” said Mallinder.
“He didn’t come here to play 80 minutes for 32 games a season. We knew he’d be part of the squad and we’re pleased he’s helped us.
“Particularly over the past few weeks, he’s played a massive part for us.”
Last Saturday, as with most of his games for Northampton, Matfield joined the game off the bench in the final 22 minutes to help steer the side to a 28-20 win over Gloucester. He is set to return back home to South Africa.
Matfield and long-time Bulls and Springbok second-row companion Bakkies Botha still boast the record for the most Tests as a lock pairing (63) and were arguably the best in the world for a significant part of their playing careers.
Matfield’s line-out prowess was as unmatched by the opposition as Botha’s physical domination, and the two made a fine duo. Matfield’s set-piece genius, however, never landed him on the wrong side of a ref’s whistle as much as his lock partner’s physicality.
Instead, his was always a more nuanced approach to the game, boxing clever in contact and mastering the mental aspect, which saw him through 127 Test matches in the green and gold, with 23 of those as Bok captain.
Matfield has served the game of rugby with distinction and his line-out expertise remains as sharp as ever. He has also previously stated his intent to coach after calling it quits on his playing days.
That is why, even as he prepares to celebrate his 39th birthday, the wheels have most likely already been set in motion for his continued involvement in the game.
– Africa News Agency