For the first time in 17 years, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha will line up against each other when the Springboks start their season against the World XV at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday. Matfield and Botha, the most-capped lock pairing in the history of world rugby with 63 Tests together, will lead out the two teams on Saturday. On Friday, Matfield revealed that he and Botha played against each other 17 years ago.
Matfield says: ‘I was a burly lock of 120kg playing for Griquas and Bakkies was a young blindside flanker of 105kg playing for the Valke. Now we’re facing up against each other again, but this time I’m 105kg and he’s closer to 120. We’ve been through so much since that game. It was a very special combination, and we’ve become great friends. Even our wives and kids have become great friends. I can’t wait to walk out there on Saturday and do the coin toss with Bakkies. But while we are friends, I know that won’t change anything when we get onto the field. I’m expecting things to be physical. Nobody will be holding anything back.’ Matfield mentioned that two of the World XV locks, Botha and Flip Van Der Merwe, know the Springboks’ line-outs well, having played in the Green and Gold in recent seasons.
Matfield says: ‘In a sense, it’s tough for us to prepare for that, because the World XV aren’t a side that has played together before. You don’t really know what to expect. Maybe they will think they know more about us, given all the games Bakkies and I played together. Maybe Bakkies will just look at me when we get to a lineout and know what I’m thinking. I’ve also played a lot of rugby with Flip over the years. So it will be interesting.’
Matfield added that the Springboks would like to start the season well and play with intensity: ‘We’ve worked hard on the fitness levels. We’ve trained especially hard over the past week. This game is very important. We have to get our attitude right, and show the right intensity. We need to work hard to overcome the rustiness.’ Botha meanwhile said that he’s very excited to lead the World XV in what will be his last match on South African soil: ‘It’s a big honour for me and a privilege especially as it’s my last game on South African soil and to be leading a quality side onto the pitch. For me, it’s not about going out on the pitch and trying to do clever stuff, it’s just about going out with the guys and enjoying it. We want to put a good game together and ask as many questions as possible to prepare the Springboks for next week and the World Cup. To lead the team onto the pitch, you don’t get it often and I’m going to enjoy the game, respect the guys next to me and make it a memorable day. We want to get on the plane on Sunday knowing we gave it everything and we are creating memories for life. I don’t think many locking combinations have played so much together in history and now Victor and I are on opposite sides and we’re going to shake hands when we’re doing the toss and make more history. It’s very exciting and it’s going to be awesome to see Victor again.’