Matfield, Kirchner join Boks

2010-06-03 00:00

VETERAN lock Victor Matfield and his Bulls team-mate, fullback Zane Kirchner, are being rushed to Cardiff to join the Springboks for their Test match against Wales on Saturday.

Matfield will take over from Stormers lock Andries Bekker, who suffered a foot injury in the Super 14 final, while Kirchner joins the squad as a replacement for Butch James.

James, who was hoping to fight his way back into Springbok contention ahead of next year’s World Cup, has become the victim of the red tape surrounding the game in England with Premier Rugby insisting that he be stood down.

Premier Rugby, the umbrella organisation for England’s Premiership clubs, has a blanket policy of not releasing players for Test matches that fall outside the IRB’s international June window.

However, it was reported last night that Saru and Premier rugby were involved in lengthy discussions and James may still be released for the Test.

What has annoyed the Springbok camp is that James was selected — as an inside centre — 11 days ago and there has been widespread speculation for weeks that he would be in the South African team. Yet the Boks were only informed late on Tuesday that he would have to stand down. In addition, a number of English Premier League players have been released to play for the Barbarians in their series of matches in the UK.

Bath officials said they were happy to release James, but they were bound by Premier Rugby’s rulings.

“Sadly we [the club] didn’t receive the letter from the SA Rugby Union sent on April 20, asking for Butch to play, so the issue has only quite recently come to our attention. Saru were under the impression this weekend was within the agreed window,” a Bath statement read.

Matfield is expected to slip into the starting line-up with the young Alistair Hargreaves providing cover off the bench.

Matfield, who played in a total 14 games in the Bulls’ successful Super 14 campaign and was seldom substituted, said he was delighted to be called up.

“The body is still a bit sore [after the Super 14 final], but it is always an honour to play for the Springboks.”

Coach Peter de Villiers has a number of backline options now that Kirchner has joined the squad. If James’s withdrawal is confirmed today, then Frans Steyn could move from fullback to inside centre with Kirchner at fullback.

De Villiers could also promote the young Juan de Jongh — if he is passed fit — from the bench to partner his Stormers team-mate Jaque Fourie in midfield or Cheetahs centre Meyer Bosman, who is also among the reserves, could be named as James’s replacement.

The Bok team to face Wales has already lost one of their overseas-based players with Fourie replacing the injured Jean de Villiers at outside centre.

Coach De Villiers said he and his fellow-national selectors, Peter Jooste and Ian McIntosh who are with him in Cardiff, have yet to settle on their team to face France in Cape Town next week.

De Villiers said that he had told the players in Cardiff that they had the opportunity to seal a place in the full-strength Bok team, which will be named over the weekend.

“It is extremely important to start our international season well against Wales,” De Villiers said.

He added that the Boks are in the same pool as the Welsh at the next Rugby World Cup in New Zealand “and if we don’t do well on Saturday, we give them a lot of confidence ahead of next year.”

The Test on Saturday kicks off at 3.30 pm (SA time).

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