Consistently superb performances have become so synonymous with the name Victor Matfield in recent times that his skills are not appreciated as they should be.
Not only has Maftield cemented his place as the top line-out forward in the world, but he has also earned a new reputation as a hard player who does his fair share in the loose. Matfield attributes all of this to game plan.
“Heyneke Meyer expects all his forwards to play to the ball,” explains Matfield. “In the national setup, with Jake White, the forwards are used a bit wider and run in channels. I have enjoyed playing according to both plans, because I had to develop different skills for each approach.”
Matfield has an unwavering will to be the best in the world, especially at line-out time. “To be on top and to remain on top, requires a lot of hard work. Any lock is only as good as his hooker and props and they have to build up an understanding to become a unit. At the Bulls we are blessed with many great forwards who can step up and do the job.
“Against the Crusaders, Bakkies Botha stole an early ball and all of a sudden they did not know where to throw the ball in the line-out and we ended up stealing ten of their throws, because we remained calm while they panicked. The first couple of line-outs in a match are of vital importance to a team’s confidence.”
Matfield is known at the Bulls as the “captain” of thie line-outs and he spends hours analysing the opposition and organising his side’s approach. He rates Nathan Sharpe, and the two Irish locks, as his most difficult opponents.
Matfield says that Super 12 rugby is much harder and uncompromising than Currie Cup rugby and any player who thinks he can play at the same level and be successful, will soon lose his place. “You have to lift your game.” As the player with the most Super 12 caps in the side, Matfield has the added responsibility to exude calmness to the rest of the side and to aid the captain in maintaining focus among the troops.
Like so many other players before him, Matfield speaks in glowing terms of what Meyer has achieved with the side. “With coach Heyneke, it is not just about building the individual’s rugby abilities, but also building his character as a person. If you have character off the field, it will show on the field, as the Bulls and Blue Bulls have proven whenever they have been written off.
“The players have now come through three Currie Cup victories and we believe in what we are doing, because it has worked for us in the past. There is nothing wrong with our game plan and it can work just as well at Springbok level.
“Even when we weren’t playing well, we never stopped believing in our game plan and we have proven that if we execute it with the right intensity and attitude, it will work. Maintaining pressure is the most important component of any successful plan.”
As you would expect, Matfield’s career includes many highlights. These include all three Currie Cup victories, the Tri-Nations victory of last year and the moment he became a Springbok.
With rugby consuming such a large part of his life, Victor does not get nearly enough time to spend on himself, but when he does, he plays a decent game of golf off an eleven handicap. He is also an enthusiastic game hunter whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Matfield has stated that he would love to be around when the British Lions tour here in 2009 and there is no doubt that will be hunting high and low and terrorising his opponents in the line-outs and general play for years to come.