How Matfield and De Villiers put aside their differences

Former Springbok lock Victor Matfield has opened up on how he and Peter de Villiers rebuilt their relationship in a documentary series on the former Springbok coach.

Matfield was interviewed for ‘Fed to the Lions’, a new documentary series on De Villiers’ upbringing and tenure as Springbok coach between 2008 and 2011.

Coming off the 2007 World Cup win, Matfield was part of a contingent of senior Springboks who moved to continue their careers in Europe, including then Bok captain John Smit, flyhalf Butch James and fullback Percy Montgomery.

However, Matfield left under a bit of a cloud, with comments that he would only return to play in South Africa under Heyneke Meyer, who had coached him at the Bulls.

During the first episode of the series, which focuses on the initial stages of De Villiers’ tenure in 2008, Matfield spoke about how a meeting between the two parties in George helped repair their relationship, after De Villiers snubbed Matfield and accused him of being a racist.

“I was very outspoken about going to Toulon, but if Heyneke Meyer stays then I will stay in South Africa. That didn’t work out, so I was off to Toulon,” Matfield explained.

“While over there, Peter came over to see some of the guys that played in the 2007 World Cup, that he thought might still be able to play [against] the [British & Irish] Lions. Unfortunately, he didn’t come visit me. He went to see Percy [Montgomery], he went to go see John Smit, but he didn’t come to see me.

“I then somehow got hold of him and I asked him, ‘Listen, won’t I be able to make the 2009 Lions team? Aren’t I in his plan?’ He said no, at this stage he thinks I am a racist, so it’s not going to work. But if I wanted to explain myself, I could see him – I think it was the Saturday in George.

“Luckily, somehow, it worked out that I injured my medial ligaments and that was the Saturday before he said I must see him. So I said, ‘OK, I will see you.’ I booked my own ticket, flew from Paris to London, London to Johannesburg and then George. I saw him for an hour and a half and the same way back.

“I must say, that’s where I got respect for him,” Matfield added. “He is an honest guy. He doesn’t say what he doesn’t mean. After an hour’s meeting, I walked out there and from that day on, we were very close. I think he understood why I said certain things and I understood him as well. From that day on, we were very close. Those four years under him as Springbok coach were some of the best times we had with the Springboks as well.”

Matfield would add a further 43 Test caps to his tally under De Villiers and captained the team in 2008, 2010 and 2011, whenever Smit was unavailable or rested.

Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images/Getty Image

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Dylan Jack