The Rugby hungry young players out to embarrass older Boks?

Round three of Super Rugby is upon is and already the elephant in the room is getting uncomfortably conspicuous for some of South Africa’s leading players.

We are talking about the Rugby World Cup, and for some of our established Springboks, there is surely the nagging realisation that the Super Rugby form of the young and the restless might just embarrass Heyneke Meyer into overlooking past accomplishments and picking the country’s best, come September.

In 2011, Springbok coach Peter de Villiers was under immense pressure to drop his captain, John Smit, for young buck Bismarck du Plessis, who at 26 was arguably in his prime. Smit was a great player and leader, but many felt the World Cup in New Zealand was a campaign too far for him, and that Du Plessis offered more. He quite possibly did, but Smit was an extraordinary captain and who knows what could have happened had Bryce Lawrence not (appallingly) refereed the Boks out of the quarter-final against Australia in Wellington. Smit could well have gone on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time had it not been for that aberration of a quarter-final. He was still a very good player, whatever the claims of Du Plessis.

In 2015, it is one of Smit’s teammates in most of his 111 Tests that is coming under a similar spotlight, although there is the distinct difference that Victor Matfield has come out of retirement to stake a claim for the World Cup, and there is a growing belief that his two years out of the game following his retirement in 2011 has taken the sting out of his game.

It is evident to many that for the Bulls, Matfield is playing like the 37-year-old he is. Let’s face it, even in his prime he was acknowledged to be more of a “scrum inspector” than a Bakkies Botha, who rolled up his sleeves and got down and got dirty. Matfield’s legend is mostly about his lineout genius, his ability to ensure his team lost none of their throws and burgled many of the opposition. He was also athletic and handy in general play, although never know to be overly robust. But let’s give credit when it is due, he was deservedly the Man of the Match in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final in Paris.

But can Matfield possibly reach those heights in London eight years later? His Super Rugby form at this early stage is suggesting not. Matfield has been working hard around the field for the Bulls, he seems to be trying to make an impact, but there is almost no physicality.

So let’s look at the alternatives to the ageing veteran.

For the Sharks last week against the Lions, Pieter-Steph du Toit was the best lock in the competition, outdoing Matfield and all second-rowers in the statistics. The 22-year-old won 11 lineouts – the most in the second round – and stole one from his opponent. He also made five carries, 10 tackles and made a turnover.

This after a year out of the game with a knee injury. Two years ago it was already clear that the Springbok second row for the World Cup should be Du Toit and Eben Etzebeth. But Meyer just does not want to let go, recalling Bakkies and then persuading Victor to return.

Meyer needs to coach the emerging players rather than rely on the old school. This weekend Du Toit and Matfield go head-to-head. It could be a watershed game for Matfield should the young buck overshadow him. Or is there life in Matfield yet?

Who knows but we might be more the wiser after this fascinating sideshow to the big Sharks v Bulls clash.

By Mike Greenaway

About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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