Quintin van Jaarsveld
Legendary lock Victor Matfield enjoyed countless magical moments and milestones during his record-setting career.
Matfield, the most-capped Springbok of all-time with 127 Tests, reflected on his iconic career in conversation with historian Dr. Dean Allen as part of a weekly video series raising funds for the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund on Thursday night.
A towering genius, the Springbok and Bulls legend is widely regarded as the greatest lineout mastermind to ever grace the game.
A meticulous student of the game, Matfield spent hours analysing the opposition. This unrivalled dedication, along with his exceptionally high rugby IQ and athleticism saw the 2.01m, 105kg pillar of strength dominate the set-piece for a decade-and-a-half.
The lineout kingpin’s uncanny ability to run the set-piece like clockwork while also being a master at disrupting opposition lineouts are the stuff of legends.
Matfield’s crowning moment came in the 2007 World Cup final against England at the Stade de France in Paris.
On the biggest stage of them all, the towering South African second-rower stood head and shoulders above the rest, not only producing a vintage lineout masterclass but also covering oceans of space in open play and making numerous tackles, including a try-saving back-tracking hit on Matthew Tait, which was every bit as crucial as Danie Rossouw’s famous glancing effort on Mark Cueto that followed moments later.
The men in Green and Gold triumphed 15-9 to clinch their second World Cup title, with Matfield acknowledged as the Man of the Match.
However, when asked by eHowzit during the Players’ Fund webinar what he regarded as his best individual performance, Matfield singled out a lesser-heralded superlative showing on home soil.
“It’s difficult. You have so many games that stick out,” Matfield admitted.
“They [pundits] talk about being Man of the Match in the World Cup final, but one game that sticks out for me was in 2004. I was injured and sent back from New Zealand and then we played Australia in Durban in a virtual Tri-Nations decider.
“The lineouts really went well; at some stage, [Wallaby hooker] Jeremy Paul [looked like he] didn’t even want to throw in because he didn’t know where to throw, so that match really stands out for me.”
Twenty-seven at the time and playing in his 29th Test, Matfield scored the first of the Springboks’ two tries in the dramatic decider that signalled South Africa’s return as a rugby superpower after the disastrous, Kamp Staaldraad-stained 2003 World Cup.
The Springboks led 23-7 with nine minutes remaining, but two yellow cards and a spirited Wallaby comeback set up a tense finale.
The hosts, however, refused to lose and claimed a heart-stopping 23-19 victory to clinch their first Tri-Nations title since 1998 and launch their journey back to the summit under Jake White.
Matfield said special moments among Springbok band of brothers outside of the spotlight trump any individual performance, accolade or trophy triumph. The fondest of which played out in Paris, he revealed.
“A lot of my [best] memories are off the field, not on the field,” remarked the 43-year-old.
“I had a chance to talk to Lukhanyo Am this week about the World Cup and he talked about a moment with him and ‘Mapimps’ [Makazole Mapimpi] after the  World Cup final.
“For me, it was in 2007, winning the World Cup on the Saturday and then on the Sunday, we had an opportunity to go to a big marquee tent right in front of the Eiffel Tower.
“We were probably about 10 or 12 Springbok guys that were there and at some stage, we walked outside and I think if I remember right, it was Fourie du Preez for sure, myself, and I think Gary Botha and maybe Danie Rossouw sat there with us.
“We were sitting there, on the grass, just looking at the Eiffel Tower…that moment, going through our careers…we had won Super Rugby and had just won the World Cup.
“That moment will always stay with me – that was so special for us, being there with your friends, the guys you spent so many hours with and now had achieved something very special.”
Matfield and the Springboks had another banner year in 2009, securing a hard-fought series win over the British and Irish Lions and defeating the All Blacks on three occasions en route to winning the Tri-Nations.
Matfield made it four victories over New Zealand in a single season when he led the Barbarians to a 25-18 triumph at Twickenham that December to cap off the year.
Despite all of these incredible highs, the most meaningful period of his illustrious career, in Matfield’s mind, was in 2010.
“The week in my career that stands out is when we went to Soweto for the Super Rugby final against the Stormers,” he said.
“We talked [earlier in the webinar] about [the] ’95 [World Cup] and what it did for the country; for us as the Blue Bulls team…everyone always talks about the [team’s] conservative, Afrikaans-speaking supporters and to see those people going to Soweto, going to the backyards of the locals and braaing with them, just mingling and, again, just seeing what sport can do for a country, get people together and let people look past each other’s differences was just amazing.”
The match proved to be the fairy-tale ending to the Bulls’ “golden era” led by Matfield and Fourie du Preez as the Pretoria side prevailed 25-17 in front of 90,000 spectators at Orlando Stadium to capture their third Super Rugby title.
The historical significance of the clash being contested in Soweto – due to Loftus Versfeld being allocated as a FIFA World Cup venue – and the way fans of all cultures wholeheartedly embraced the move, as Matfield mentioned, elevated the occasion to legendary status.
Matfield, who captained the Springboks on 23 occasions, made his final appearance in the Green and Gold at the ripe old age of 38 in the third-place play-off against Argentina at the 2015 World Cup, which South Africa won 24-13 at the Olympic Stadium in London.
The Players’ Fund’s popular weekly interview series continues this Thursday evening with another Springbok legend as the special guest, the indomitable Tendai Mtawarira.
The Players’ Fund is the official charity of the Springboks which supports rugby players in South Africa whose lives were changed through serious injury on the field.
Springbok supporters also stand a chance of winning the official Springbok Opus – the ultimate celebration of the extraordinary history of this symbol of a nation, from the first games played in 1891 through wars, social change, unification and, ultimately, recognition as World Cup champions.
This limited edition book – No.2 of 20 – was signed by the Springbok squad in September 2015 and donated to the Players’ Fund.
Raffle tickets for this incredible piece of memorabilia cost just R100 and only 300 tickets are on sale. The winner will be announced on Thursday, 9 July.
To enter the raffle and book for the FREE webinar with “The Beast”, CLICK HERE.
Meanwhile, limited edition Springbok Supporters’ face masks in celebration of the 25th anniversary of South Africa’s maiden World Cup triumph are still available at Pick n Pay stores nationwide. All profits will be donated to the Players’ Fund.
For more information and to donate to the Players’ Fund, CLICK HERE.