Botha: Matfield still the master

Bakkies Botha believes that the return of his long-time second row partner Victor Matfield will be significant for the Springboks. JON CARDINELLI reports.

Saturday’s match against the World XV will mark Botha and Matfield’s first game as a combination since 2011. Even Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has made the comment about the two players beating the odds to renew what is a special partnership. It is a reunion that few would have predicted following the 2011 World Cup, which seemed to mark the end of both player's careers.

Botha made his comeback to the Bok fold in late 2013, turning in some powerful performances against Scotland and France. It was after that tour that Meyer declared himself satisfied that Botha still had what it took to be a Test player.

This week, Meyer said the same of Matfield’s return to international rugby. He's been in great form for the Bulls, and the standout No 5 lock in South Africa.

Botha arrived in South Africa on Monday after helping French side Toulon record a rare double (the European Cup and Top 14 titles). The big man has been pushed straight into training with the Bok side, and said he’s been thrilled to see that Matfield, even at the age of 37, has lost none of his magic.

‘If anything, he’s lost a few kilograms, so he can jump faster and we can lift him higher at the lineouts,' Botha quipped, before adopting a more serious tone.

‘He brings a lot of calm and confidence to the team. There’s a lot of respect for him. As for our combination. that connection between myself and Victor is still there. We are still able to read each other’s body language and adapt accordingly.’

Matfield will lead the Boks this June in the injury-enforced absence of Jean de Villiers. On Tuesday, he expressed the desire to play at the global tournament in 2015 and ultimately help the Boks win the Webb Ellis Cup.

But if he does go to the tournament in England, it may be without Botha as his locking partner. The latter said on Wednesday that he wasn’t looking that far ahead. It could be that, for Botha, the 2015 World Cup is a bridge too far.

‘My body is feeling good at the moment. I had a good rest when I was sidelined with an injury [a broken arm], and then it was good to get back and help Toulon [win those two titles].

'However, I am only taking things one week at a time. The World Cup is not in my cross hair. It would be great to be there, but I don’t know if my body will hold up.’

Botha added that he was keen to get back on the park this Saturday, and help the Boks make a statement against the World XV.

‘I’m going to be giving absolutely everything. I’ve had a great couple of weeks in France, but am now focused on what I need to do for the Boks.

'Hopefully we can set the platform for our backs. It’s also about building some momentum and taking it into the next few games [against Wales and Scotland],’ Botha said.

Photo: Anne Laing/HSMImages

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Jon Cardinelli