Victor Matfield will decide this week whether to return to the Bulls or stay with French second division club Toulon.
Matfield, widely regarded as the world’s best lock, joined big spending Toulon in December 2007 on a multi-million rand deal. He does, however, have a clause in his contract that allows him to reassess his position after six months.
In a recent interview with SA Rugby magazine Matfield hinted strongly that he would like to return to play for the Bulls, but said his earning potential and being able to spend more time with his family was the appealing thing about staying in the southern French city.
“Two or three seasons here would set me up for life financially and being able to see [his wife] Monja and [daughter] Jaime everyday is something I’m loving,” he said.
“[But] I think I made the move to France two years to early. The decision to come here was based on the fact that I believed I had two years of international rugby left in me. In my mind the Lions tour in 2009 was going to be my final series, so I decided that it would be good to finish by experiencing a different rugby culture and be paid handsomely for it in the process. Then, after the World Cup, I felt great, and at this stage I want to play for another four years, with the World Cup in New Zealand the obvious target. If I want to realise that goal I need to be playing my rugby in South Africa.
Asked whether the incessant pressure he was under in South Africa wouldn’t deter him from coming home Matfield said: “You’d think that I grew tired of it, but I really miss the pressure for some strange reason.
“To test yourself against the world’s best players weekly is a privilege, and something that I miss terribly. Toulon is a great club and I‘m still dead set on playing my part in getting us into the Top 14. They’ve been very good to me, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful. But the Bulls have a special place in my heart. I miss what we’ve built up over the last eight years. The majority of that squad went through hell in the early 2000s in the (then) Super 12. We came through that together, and won the competition last year. So there’s a strong bond between the guys.
“If I can get stuff sorted out with Toulon and back in South Africa I’ll probably be coming home.”
Last year, South Africa lost a host of World Cup winning Springboks to lucrative contracts with European clubs and there are currently 93 other South Africans playing in the Premiership, French Top 14 and Frennch Pro 2 Division. Matfield said players who sign to play in Europe have to be clear in their motivation.
“If they’re coming here for the retirement package and more time with their families, there really isn’t a better place than France, Toulon in particular. But if they still have ambitions to achieve something in South Africa, those “what if” questions will always be there. Those questions have haunted me a lot since I‘ve been here.”
Toulon are known to be very reluctant to release their star signing, hoping that he will be their trump card if they gain promotion to the Top 14 – which now looks likely with them seven points clear at the top of the table with six rounds remaining. It would not be surprising if millionaire club president Mourad Boudjellal offered to improve Matfield’s current deal to retain his services.
Boudjellal told SA Rugby Magazine that he envisages creating a team of stars who are able to compete for the title in their first year in the Top 14. Toulon, who are coached by Tana Umaga, already boast players of the calibre of George Gregan, Anton Oliver and Andrew Mehrtens. Last year they attempted to sign Schalk Burger and Jerry Collins but were rejected, while an approach was made to Bulls Super 14 winning coach Heyneke Meyer. Most recently they’ve been linked with Dan Carter, although French giants Toulouse look favourites to land the All Black flyhalf.
Matfield’s Springbok lock partner Bakkies Botha recently expressed his desire to move join Matfield at Toulon. Boudjellal told keo.co.za that he had signed a pre-contract agreement, committing himself to the club from 1 April 2008. However, the Bulls refused to release Botha, who last year signed a four year extension to his existing Bulls contract.
By Ryan Vrede