Major teams: Blue Bulls, Griquas, Cats, Toulon, Northampton
Country: South Africa
Test span: 2001-2015
South Africa caps: 127 (121 starts)
Test points: 35 (7T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Victor Matfield
Not even retirement halted Victor Matfield’s influence on the international stage. Two-and-a-half years after bowing out of rugby when the Springboks were dumped out of the 2011 World Cup by Australia, the shaggy-haired lock ended his hiatus and returned to Super Rugby action with the Blue Bulls, for whom he had been serving as a lineout coach.
That June, Matfield captained South Africa to a 47-13 defeat of a World XV in Cape Town at the age of 37 and promptly added to his tally of 110 caps in the ensuing two-match series against Wales.
Four months later, he played all 80 minutes of an epic 27-25 victory over New Zealand at Ellis Park. It was the All Blacks’ maiden loss in 22 outings and provided indisputable evidence that Matfield could still mix it with the best on the planet.
Though the Bulls endured a torrid Super Rugby campaign in 2015, Matfield was included in Heyneke Meyer’s squad for the Rugby Championship, and went to a fourth World Cup with the Bok’s.
In truth, his status as a South Africa great was secure before the end of the last decade. Matfield’s mathematical set-piece prowess in a complementary engine-room partnership with bruising Bakkies Botha was a mainstay of the 2007 World Cup success and 2009 series defeat of the Lions.
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Though a yellow card meant he wasn’t on the field for the final whistle, he also captained the Springboks to a 30-28 defeat of New Zealand in 2008, ending the All Blacks’ five-year unbeaten home record.
There were also three Super Rugby titles in four seasons between 2007 and 2010 with the Bulls in a period drenched with silverware on all fronts.
Ahead of the clash with Ireland last November, Matfield named Lions adversary Paul O’Connell as his most respected opponent. The mighty Munsterman wasted no time in returning the compliment.
“He’s the best lineout forward in the world and has been for a long time. To be able to take two years out and come back as good, if not better, than he ever was is an incredible achievement.”
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