Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has left the door open for former Bok captain Victor Matfield to make a stunning return to the game two years after he retired, but stressed it was up to Matfield to prove he still has what it takes to make it.
The supersport.com website reported on Thursday that Matfield and Loftus’ ‘liefling’ Derick Hougaard are both hard in training to try and make a comeback ahead of the 2014 Super Rugby season.
The story, which has seen mixed reaction by fans on whether the 36-year old Matfield should return to the game, was at the centre of questions posed to Meyer ahead of the Bok side’s departure on their tour of Wales, Scotland and France.
Meyer first said that he would ensure the best players would still play for the Springboks – but admitted he is worried about the lack of talent in the No 5 jersey. Meyer has selected a quartet of four locks for the tour, and will be hoping that Flip van der Merwe and Pieter-Steph du Toit show enough promise to make the jersey their own.
“You probably should speak to the player and his union about him making a comeback, it’s not in my hands,” Meyer said when quizzed on a possible return for Matfield.
“I’ve always believed we need quality no 5s in this country, and if you’re good enough, and you’re old enough you can play.
“I’ve also heard the rumours and it will be interesting to see if he will play.
“We need quality youngsters coming through in the five lock position and as a coach he has done a great job in helping guys come through the system as well.
“Only time will tell, but that is the position I’m worried about in South Africa. Pieter-Steph (Du Toit) and Eben (Etzebeth) will grow into great five locks. Flip is now getting there, but it takes time.
“The more guys who can play there, the better it is for South Africa and the best guys will play in the end.”
Meyer said it wasn’t for him to say if a player should return, but knowing Matfield like he does, would know that he would take the right decision, and would not return to the game if he didn’t feel he could make it back to the top.
“It’s not for me to say, but I can say he has never stopped training and he has always been an unbelievable athlete,” Meyer explained.
“The feedback I get from the Bulls is that he is still doing lineouts and still stealing ball.
“The main thing in Test match rugby is that you have to win all your lineouts and your kickoffs.
“We’ve been good in our lineouts, but our kickoffs have not been good at all.
“It cost us the game against New Zealand and that is one of his strengths.
“Victor is a pro, he will know if he is good enough and if his body has adapted.
“Fitness-wise, he has always been one of the best, he is a freak.
“If he doesn’t take it seriously and can’t play at the highest level, he won’t do it.
“It is up to him to show if he wants to, and he will make the right decision.
“It is in his hands.”
The Boks leave on Saturday for the three-Test tour and should they come home unbeaten they would have capped a successful year where their only losses were the two matches against the World Champion All Blacks.