Matfield: Back rookies for Wales Test

Victor Matfield (Gallo Images)
Victor Matfield (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – Some untried players in the extended squad who have largely avoided the mental scarring of the past few weeks should be picked for the Springboks’ final end-of-year Test against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.

So says the most capped Bok of all time, Victor Matfield.

The World Cup 2007-winning lock, occasionally the Bok captain and holder of 127 caps, has also urged disillusioned Bok supporters “not to throw away your jerseys” as things can turn around fast in international rugby, warned against blaming transformation for the current problems, and suggested that Handre Pollard could be entrusted with the leadership next year -- and possibly grow into the type of figure John Smit was in that capacity.

Matfield spoke with rare candour on SuperSport’s SuperRugby Afrikaans chat show, in the wake of the Boks’ latest embarrassment, the first-time defeat to Italy on Saturday.

For all his decorations in an often glittering career, the now 39-year-old also experienced “down” times on occasions with the Boks and will be aware of the likely sombre mood in the camp at present.

“The guys sitting there in Wales … believe me they are feeling worse than anyone back home right now. They run onto the field, they give everything, but there’s just something crucially missing at the moment.

“There is so much pressure on the bunch of players who have played three, four Tests in a row and not (been successful). They’ll be sitting in their rooms the whole week thinking ‘how can we get this right?’

“So you know what? Play some (untried) young guys. Let them bring a whole new excitement, a new energy. Give them a chance.

“Tell them not to over-think things; go out in Cardiff on Saturday and play rugby. Sometimes we can get too clinical. Go out and enjoy yourself, do your thing, and be proud to be a new Springbok.”

Nor is Matfield buying too heavily into the emotional climate on social media and the like.

“Everyone thinks it’s all over for Springbok rugby; people are saying they’re throwing their jerseys away. But take England only a year ago … they couldn’t even make the quarter-finals of the World Cup in their own backyard. Everyone said they’re history.

“A year on, after a few brave decisions (at boardroom level), they’ve won 11 games in a row. So it’s not over for Bok rugby. Things can turn around. Lots must be assessed, examined, but there are still a few months before we start a new season.”

The former Bulls favourite also refuses to use transformation requirements as some sort of excuse for the Bok discomfort in 2016.

“I was engaging with Whatsapp groups and so on and actually almost fighting with friends of mine: I think we hide far too easily behind transformation in our country. Yes, it makes things challenging at certain levels, but again, who is ultimately in control of the process?

“Transformation is part of our country; we have to do it. What work is being done, who is actually responsible for it? Who is ensuring there are plenty of candidates to be able to pick at the top level?

“It can’t be the job of the Springbok coach. We creep behind transformation as a (cause) of our problems … there are many other issues that have to be addressed before we (put too much focus on) transformation.”

Believing that embattled head coach Allister Coetzee could benefit from the appointment of a director of rugby above him, Matfield added: “SA Rugby needs to say ‘what must we do for the Boks to be successful’? They need to have a plan in place, someone at the top with a vision that can be laid out for the whole of South African rugby.

“That guy must be able to say ‘buy in, or be no part of this process’, and be empowered to make appointments. Someone must take responsibility.”

The lineout maestro also advocates a future policy of Bok players plying their franchise trades within South Africa.

“I feel very strongly that Springboks should be home-based, if you want to be able to properly manage and control players. They must be in your local system.

“We need to think more originally in the way we (aid and educate) Springbok players. Get six or seven specialist advisors in key areas of play.

“An example: everyone is screaming this year that our scrumhalves are not playing as they should. You’ve got a guy with the knowledge of Fourie du Preez; he could be ringing those guys weekly to assist them.

“Tell them when it is right to run the ball, when you must stop to look at what is the right thing to do. Get the very best experts on centre play, defence, lineouts … they can work right through the year, establish consistent methods.”

Looking to the imminent, post-Adriaan Strauss era in Bok captaincy, Matfield said: “I am a big advocate of Handre Pollard as someone who could lead us through to the 2019 World Cup.

“He was not involved this year, he can slot back in nicely in 2017. He will be one of the few guys able to be positive.

“Handre was fantastic as a captain at (Junior World Championship) level … he reminds me of someone like John Smit who started in captaincy young, with a good group of guys around  him. He has people who trust in and believe in him as a captain -- begin to build around him for the Springboks.”

He described another potential candidate, Toulon-based Duane Vermeulen, as a “fantastic guy” but said his stationing abroad was not ideal.

“Again I ask, who is in control? We need to ensure we get a guy like Duane back playing in South Africa.

“We must go and fetch him (from France) … he wants to play for the Springboks, so we must (establish) what needs to be done to bring him back to our country.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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