There is an air of excitement in Pretoria about the return of World Cup-winning Springbok lock Victor Matfield.
Matfield will make his return to in a competitive game – following the 30-minute outing in a the pre-season trial against the Stormers – when the Bulls travel to Durban to meet one of the pre-tournament favourites, the Sharks, in the opening round of Super Rugby action.
While his comeback and the reasons behind that are well documented, there are still many critics who wonder if it is a mistake.
His advocators are unyielding in their belief he still has it.
His detractors will point to his age and two years away from the game as matters of concern.
However, there is no doubt he has the full backing of both the coaching staff and playing corps in Pretoria – who have no doubt the record-breaking lock can reproduce the quality game that once made him an icon around the world, despite turning 37 in May.
“We are excited about the involvement of Victor [Matfield] with the Bulls,” coach Frans Ludeke told this website in an interview ahead of Saturday’s trip to Durban.
“We all know Victor and what he has achieved, the massive role he played at the Bulls for more than a decade – his leadership and tactical decision-making.
“He is a specialist in his position.
“It is a cliché, but also a fact: ‘If you are good enough, then you are old or young enough.’
“It is certainly the case with Victor .”
Ludeke said the 110-Test veteran showed during the pre-season conditioning and on-field sessions that he can make an impact.
“He makes a massive difference and contribution,” the coach said, adding that there is an air of excitement about his return.
Ludeke carefully sidestepped the question of whether Matfield would start or play off the bench against the Sharks.
“We will decide on a game-by-game basis how to utilise him, but in short – he is ready and available.”
There is no doubt the value there is in having Matfield around the younger locks in the Bulls group, but the Bulls are likely to carefully manage his comeback and it would not be a surprise if he only plays off the bench at the weekend.
He could be a great asset to the Bulls if it is a close game in the second half and they need something special.
There is no doubt he could play a vital role for the Bulls in Durban.
The other aspect that may be an issue is his match fitness, but the Bulls are likely to manage that carefully as well.
By Jan de Koning