Victor Matfield will have an even more important role to play for the Springboks after Pieter-Steph du Toit was ruled out for the rest of the season, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
South Africa has a dearth of quality options at No 5 lock, which was evident when Flip van der Merwe, who is naturally a No 4, started there for the Boks in their end-of-year Tests against Wales, Scotland and France.
Du Toit got just 23 minutes of game time, as a replacement, on that tour – 11 minutes against Wales and 12 against France – as Bok coach Heyneke Meyer opted to ease him into Test rugby. However, many felt he should have started against Scotland, especially after his Man of the Match performance in the Currie Cup final that saw him dominate the lineouts, and carry the ball and tackle with equal efficiency.
The 21-year-old may well have forced his way into the Bok XV in 2014, but his season-ending knee injury means he will have to wait until 2015, the year of the World Cup, to make that happen.
The Sharks will miss him terribly in Super Rugby but fortunately for the Boks, they have Matfield back in the selection frame.
Bulls coach Frans Ludeke initially planned to play Matfield off the bench throughout the early stages of Super Rugby, but their poor start to the tournament saw the 36-year-old back in the No 5 jersey for their third match, against the Lions.
Matfield, as you'd expect, looked off the pace when he made his return as a substitute against the Sharks in round one, but has got better and better the more he has played. By the time June arrives, he should be back to his best – or close enough to it – and ready to make a contribution to the Boks on the field (he will play a mentoring role off it, with Meyer perhaps deciding to keep Du Toit involved with the squad).
If he isn't, and Meyer sticks with Van der Merwe at No 5, then at least the coach has a more than capable back-up in Matfield.
Either way, Matfield's comeback looks set to pay off.
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