Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha again give the Springboks a dimension that has been missing since Heyneke Meyer took charge in 2012, writes MARK KEOHANE.
So many are so quick to want to see new faces in the Springboks set-up. Why? The best should play.
Matfield and Botha are, in my view, the best lock combination to have played the professional game. I think it unfair to compare the heroes of the amateur era with those who now play the sport as a profession.
Eben Etzebeth is freakish in his talent. Similarly Pieter-Steph du Toit. No other country is as blessed with two senior statesmen like Matfield and Botha and two successors like Etzebeth and Du Toit.
What a luxury to have a phasing in and phasing out of such talent. It is this type of quality in player that defines a great team and sets it apart from a very good one.
Matfield is without comparison in his intellect of lineout and kick-off play. And he is up with the best when it comes to other aspects of being an international lock.
Botha is one of the rare breed of enforcers that just gets better with age. He was a presence in Test rugby as a youngster. Now he is a colossal presence.
Botha’s three years at Toulon have added to the legend because it is in Europe where forwards make their name. A player who dominates as a forward in France’s domestic league is worthy of every purple prose adjective.
Matfield and Botha will be managed in the next year and their international game time will be adjusted according to the fitness of Etzebeth, Du Toit, Flip van der Merwe and one or two others. No other international coach has such a lock luxury.
It is to be embraced. Building a World Cup squad means having 30 players of near equal pedigree. No team has ever been able to say they have this luxury. The All Blacks have come closest. Meyer is not far behind in what he has put together in experience and youth.
Don’t think of the Boks as a starting XV and don’t think in terms of Botha or Etzebeth. The demands of the game require two players per position, especially in Test rugby.
Just think back to the Paris international against France last November. Etzebeth lasted just 17 minutes before hurting his ankle. However, there was no respite for the French because Botha was his replacement.
That’s a different kind of wow factor.
There is always a place in Test rugby for a fresh-faced youngster but what should be non-negotiable is the investment in hardened veterans. Test rugby – and the play-offs at the World Cup – speaks more to grizzlies than cubs. The Springboks, as things stand, have the balance just right.
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images