Victor Matfield’s return to professional rugby was productive, if not victorious, writes MARK KEOHANE.
The primary objective in the next month will be game time for the 110-Test Springbok veteran who retired in 2011.
Matfield was introduced in the 45th minute when the Bulls were trailing the Sharks 23-9. He was busy defensively and made eight tackles. He was also very vocal in a leadership role and he also carried the ball five times and won two lineout takes.
He also called the lineouts and the Bulls did not lose a lineout on their own throw in the last 35 minutes. He was active and involved and did not look off the pace, although his impact was always going to be negligible because of the state of the game when he made his return. The Sharks were 23-9 ahead and enjoyed greater possession in the second half.
Matfield could not influence any turnovers from opposition lineout and his only negative was conceding possession in contact on one occasion and conceding a penalty for a lineout infringement.
Matfield appeared in a No 18 jersey but finished in No 24. His appearance equalled the South African record for Super Rugby appearances, which he now shares on 125 with AJ Venter and John Smit.
For a guy who hasn’t played in two years his comeback match was measured
The crowd gave him a warm reception and as SuperSport analyst and former Bok coach Nick Mallett said afterwards, that was out of respect for what he has done as a player. The challenge now was to do it again.
Matfield will have to earn the respect again in the remainder of the competition and despite the many doom prophets I believe he will be an influence with more game time.
Matfield has not played for two years and he felt he coped with the pace of the game. He conceded that his contesting was still rusty but that would improve the more he played. He felt he got involved and his tackle count was high.
Sharks lock Pieter-Steph du Toit, who started the match, had made four carries and won three lineouts by the 65th minute. He had won 26 metres in carries. This was considered a decent return, yet Matfield, in the a 20-minute period between the 45th and 65th minute, made three carries, four tackles won one lineout take. What was singled out, however, was his penalty infringement and being turned over in one contact area.
The jury will rightly be out on whether Matfield can again be the best No 5 lock in the country, but for a guy who hasn’t played in two years his comeback match was measured and this would have given Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer comfort.
I felt Matfield’s willingness to make the tackles and to commit to the physicality of the game was the most pleasing aspect.
This was the first step in many on his way back into the Bok fold in June. And despite the defeat it was step made with conviction and with the necessary application.
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images