Victor Matfield says he won’t change his approach to captaincy when leading his country and is looking forward to having Bakkies Botha alongside him once again.
The world’s most famous lock pairing, who’ve played together in 54 Tests for the Springboks, will re-unite for the first time since Botha started against the Sharks. That was seven weeks ago and Botha only lasted 40 minutes due to a lack of match fitness after an Achilles injury, but the pair know each other so well that shouldn’t provide problems.
‘I might have to chat with him throughout the game,’ said Matfield with a laugh. ‘Danie’s been in great form and that shows the unbelievable depth we have at the moment. Bakkies has been out for a while, so he’s excited, but also nervous.’
Danie Rossouw’s form has been a revelation, but if Botha reaches peak fitness, he is crucial to the Boks. His value at the scrum is also under-rated and will be imperative against the strong-scrummaging Azzurri on Saturday.
Botha has missed the Boks’ last three Tests and last ran out for the green and gold against the self-same Italians in Udine last November. In his most recent match against the Stormers he lost focus and looked intent on physically maiming his opponents, but Matfield is confident he’ll exhibit the controlled aggression that makes him one of the most feared forwards in the game.
‘Hopefully Bakkies has learnt his lesson,’ Matfield said of Botha’s four-week suspension. ‘There’s always a fine line when it comes to that stuff, but his job is to intimidate the opposition, and that’s what he must do.’
Matfield plays his best rugby when he has a bruiser such as Botha or Roussouw alongside, but in Witbank on Saturday Botha is unlikely to complete the entire 80 minutes as he hasn’t played in five weeks. Alistair Hargreaves will come off the bench for his second cap, and was preferred to Flip van der Merwe.
When asked whether Van der Merwe should have been given another chance off the bench after having little time to impress, De Villiers said he has no problem playing Matfield and Hargreaves together.
‘We don’t want to get sentimental about decisions,’ said the Bok coach. ‘Victor schooled Andries Bekker into the lock he is today, and we want him to do the same with Alistair. Then we’ll have three quality No 5 locks who make life difficult for hookers at the lineouts.
‘It was a difficult decision not to pick Flip, but there’s thinking behind the process.’
Turning his attention to leading the Boks for the 11th time in his 95th Test, Matfield said his approach won’t be different to the typical Bok blueprint.
‘It’s always nice to lead your country in a Test,’ he said. ‘It’s good to work closely with John Smit and it won’t change much.
‘Personally, I’ll lead the same way as I do at the Bulls. I am who I am, and I won’t do anything different. It will be the same as if John was here as we always have a group of leaders. The same guys will make their calls and do their jobs, I’ll just run out first.’
By Grant Ball, in Witbank