Jean Smyth: Matfield the Magnificent
Though he takes to the field this weekend for a record 112 test matches as a Springbok, Victor Matfield missed a major opportunity this week. He would have been forgiven for walking into the traditional Friday captain's press conference wearing a cape, underpants over a pair of tights and the Superman logo emblazoned across his chest.
At 37-years-old, with two years on the sidelines and coaching badges coming out of his ears, he could probably hop onto his bike and ride the Cape Epic next year if he wanted to. Seems the perfect training for the World Cup.
I recall interviewing Matfield at Twickenham in 2010 shortly after his team dispatched England. He played 73 minutes that day having "popped a rib". Coach Peter de Villiers was effusive in his praise of his captain as John Smit had missed out due to a neck operation.
The hacks always get a second bite in London as the players often get pelted with a few questions after being excused from the top-table. I can't recall my exact question to him, but it was along the lines of "should Smit not recover fully from injury, or be usurped by Bismarck du Plessis, was he ready to lead his country at the World Cup?" His piercing glare cut me down and he flat-batted a question that was clearly after a headline, like the old hand he was. A year on from then he retired, for the first time.
The remarkable, and now familiar, story that's now brought us to this point doesn't require much documenting here but perhaps a reflection on what he has achieved in the game does.
To date Heyneke Meyer's faith in Matfield has resulted in the proverbial middle finger being shown to those in the rugby public who have doubted his judgment in his recall. Easily the best of the fit locks available to him, the Bulls man's contribution in a short space of time has been immense.
As happens with South Africa's sports stars who fans like to fell at every opportunity, it so often rests on the opinions of those from abroad to provide a balanced view that reminds us of just how fortunate we are in this country.
Wales coach Warren Gatland earlier this week said of him: "A massive congratulations to him for what he's achieved in the game. I personally have a huge amount of respect for him as a player and as a gentleman off the field as well. He deserves to be recognised for what he has achieved."
His return is also being managed ahead of the World Cup in 2015, where both his and the Springbok management's eyes are firmly set. This week at the Mbombela Stadium, when not taking part in training, he carried himself in an almost leopard-like manner - carefully placing his feet when he walks, effectively managing his energy output and stalking around the pitch: clearly a man in control of his own destiny.
It must be an incredible thing to possess a talent so unique that it allows you to strut. And Matfield is one of those; a man for whom the rugby world waits, whose demeanour can come across as arrogant as a result and the ultimate master of his craft. It's called 'total belief'.
And for Meyer, I certainly wouldn't begrudge him walking out at his next engagement carrying a sign that says "I told you so!" And so he has.
When Matfield takes to the Mbombela pitch on Saturday, no matter your view of the man, you should rise and applaud for you are watching rugby greatness in your lifetime. Be grateful for that.
Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN