Springbok giant Victor Matfield says that Andries Bekker has the ability to be an even better lock than him, and that the Stormers are very close to winning an elusive Super Rugby crown (clearly at this point he had just inhaled a bit of that ‘mountain baccy’).
Matfield was speaking at a Cape Town hotel on Wednesday to discuss his recently released autobiography, Victor: My Journey. The Springbok vice-captain officially retired from the game last Saturday, when he led the Barbarians against Australia at Twickenham in London, which ended in a 60-11 romp for the Wallabies.
The 110-Test veteran won’t be around to man the Springbok lineout anymore, but the man tipped to take over his No 5 jersey is Bekker. And the former Bulls skipper believes that the 2.08m Stormers second-rower can take over his mantle and become the best lock in the world.
Bekker, who turns 28 on December 5, was injured while playing for the Stormers and missed out on the Boks’ World Cup campaign in New Zealand a few months ago, where the defending champions crashed out in the quarterfinals after going down 11-9 to Australia.
“I definitely think Andries can be better than me! The skills he has, look how big he is, he is quick. He is definitely the best lock I have played against in world rugby,” Matfield told the Cape Times yesterday.
“I just hope he can get over his back and foot injuries. He is a big guy, and it can be a problem. We all hope he can be back to his best. I think they can change the gameplan at the Stormers a bit to make him a better player! But you must use him with ball-in-hand, get him carrying the ball.”
The Stormers have reached the final and semifinal of the Super Rugby tournament in the last two years, while Western Province have also lost at the same stages in the Currie Cup.
Matfield, 34, captained the Bulls to three Super Rugby titles, along with three Currie Cup trophies, so he knows what it takes for rugby teams to be successful. He says that the Cape sides just need to keep persevering to clinch some silverware in 2012.
“The Stormers have played fantastic rugby in the last two years in Super Rugby. They are there,” Matfield said. “Something just needs to happen for them. It’s almost like the All Blacks. It is around the corner. They have the team, although perhaps they have one or two shortcomings. They have the players and leadership, everything is in place.”
With Matfield guiding the Bulls to numerous trophies and being the No 1 lock in the world, many critics felt that he should’ve been the Bok captain at the World Cup, as John Smit was out of form and Bismarck du Plessis was regarded by many as a far superior hooker.
Matfield does address the issue in his book, in which he consistently voices his support for Smit as captain, but he admitted yesterday that the situation was a tricky one. “It’s one of those catch-22 issues. I just believe that it wasn’t my place to say or do anything. Do I say ‘Listen John, I support you 100, and let’s go to the coach and tell him I don’t want to be the captain, and you are the captain’? Then, what must a guy like Bismarck (du Plessis) think?
“Or, if I go to the coach and say ‘I should be captain, John is not worth it’? Then everybody would think this guy is arrogant and just wants the captaincy. So, I was in a very difficult situation,” he said.
“The only thing I could do, as the vice-captain, was to support John and give him everything I had. And if they asked me to captain the side, I was available to do that to the best of my ability, and that’s what I did.”
Matfield believes that if Bok coach Peter de Villiers had wanted to drop Smit, it had to be done way before the World Cup. “I think it is a very difficult call to make just before a World Cup. If they wanted to do it, it should’ve been maybe earlier,” he said.
“The structure had been working in a certain way, and now you want to throw the captain away. Then it’s ‘Who’s next?’ It was a difficult thing.
“Peter was under huge pressure, and John had supported him the whole four years. It’s difficult, those things. It’s not just about what’s happening on the field. It’s about the dynamics of the whole squad.”
Victor on Bryce Lawrrence, Peter de Villiers the next Bok coach and his future:
Bryce Lawrence: I don’t think Bryce went out to cheat us. I think the stage was maybe too big for him on the day, and he froze. It was in New Zealand and he is a New Zealander, and it was an important game for them because the team who won would play the All Blacks next. He just froze and didn’t want to make calls at ruck-time.
Peter de Villiers: With the type of squad Peter got, he realised that he is almost more like a manager than a coach, although he was involved with the coaching. He saw himself as managing the set-up, and that’s how a lot of coaches should be – getting people going. He never had an ego, and it was never for Peter de Villiers. It was about what’s best for the team, the Springboks. He always stood up for the players, and he gave everything that he thought would be best for the Boks – even bringing in Rassie and Jacques Nienaber.
Senior player power: The one thing that’s very important is that the final decision always lies with the head coach. It can’t be different, and it has always been like that. Peter always facilitated meetings with the senior players and the coaches, where we sat together and talked about things, but the final decisions rest with him. Although we had huge input, we never had the final say, and that was very important.
Frans Ludeke: I am crazy about Frans. He is probably the best person I have met in my life. He never takes credit and gives it to everyone else. He has won two Super 14s and a Currie Cup, and no other coach can say that. His secret is that he is a perfectionist. Everything is in place, point by point. And if you cross the line, he will let you know it, and put his foot down.
Heyneke Meyer: There’s one guy who taught me everything about rugby, installed everything and the way I look at rugby, and that’s Heyneke. It is difficult to compare other coaches to him because Heyneke got me young and made me. I worked very well with Frans, whereas Heyneke ‘formed’ me as a rugby player. I enjoyed both coaches.
The next Bok coach: What’s important is that we must get the best guy to do the job – we must try and get away from this ‘He can’t get away from Province’ or ‘He can’t get away from the Bulls’. They must go sit and say ‘Who is the best guy to take over the Springbok ship and get an 80 percent record, to be like the All Blacks and win everything they play in’. I would like to see them get the three or four best rugby guys together, put them in a room and tell them ‘The four of you must get this thing rolling’. We need to make the Springboks unbeatable.
His future: I’m going on holiday with my family, and then I’m going to New York and Vegas with my wife in January. I will come back and get to work with my (financial) business and SuperSport (as a rugby analyst). I will also be a consultant with the Bulls. I want to stay involved with rugby, and at the moment, it wasn’t the right option to stay fulltime in rugby. So, the SuperSport job will be my main job. At the Bulls, I will help with the lineouts, and look at broken play. I will also sit with the coaches and be someone for Frans to bounce ideas off.