South African veteran Victor Matfield has his World Cup winners’ medal from 2007 but insists winning another next October at Twickenham is still top of his priority list as the Springboks head into their northern hemisphere tour opener against Ireland this Saturday.
The South Africans arrived in Dublin this week as the world number two-ranked team, fresh from inflicting a famous victory over world champions New Zealand at Ellis Park in the final round of the Rugby Championship.
Yet the hard work is far from over, and as far as Heyneke Meyer’s players, led by captain Jean de Villiers, are concerned their four-Test tour against the Irish, English, Italians and Welsh is no end-of-season jolly.
“We’re looking at this tour differently. Jean said it on Saturday there were 365 days to the final. So this is not an end-of-year tour,” Matfield said. “This is the beginning of the year that we want to win the World Cup. This is all focused on the World Cup. We know these are the conditions we will play in so it’s a great start to a World Cup year for us.”
Matfield may be 37 but the fire burns deep enough inside the talismanic lock that when head coach Meyer asked him to come out of a three-year Test retirement, the Blue Bulls player-coach pushed his reservations to one side. In fact, Matfield expressed his surprise fellow rugby icon Brian O’Driscoll chose to go the reverse route at 35 just as he was jumping back into the Test arena.
“I thought it was very funny he stopped a year before a World Cup, or a year and a half out from a World Cup,” he said of O’Driscoll.
“For me, it was all about when Heyneke Meyer came to see me and we spoke about it. He thought I could make a difference in the World Cup. I had to go and sit down and think about it. Would I be fit enough? Am I keen enough? Will I work hard enough to be on top form, to make that difference when it comes to the World Cup? So those were the decisions that went through my head. It made it easier for me because I worked all my life with the coaches, Heyneke, Johann van Graan and John McFarland.
“They were like mentors to me when I was a young player. So having them in the management made it much easier. And I still have a lot of friends in this group. So my motivation is focused on the World Cup next year.”
If Matfield is to be believed — and who would argue with the 6ft 7ins, 17st 5lb behemoth — this weekend’s meeting with Ireland is being treated with as much seriousness as their clash with New Zealand a month ago.
“The All Blacks is over and done with. This is a new challenge. But this is going to be just as hard as beating the All Blacks in South Africa. Ireland on their home patch as Six Nations champions, they’re a very good side and a team that is very confident.
”Every game is important for us as the Springboks. Once you pull on that Springbok jersey, you have to go out and need to win those games.”
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