Six years ago South African captain Victor Matfield got up close and personal with Matt Giteau as Barbarians teammates.
It has ensured Matfield will again be keeping a close eye on the recalled Wallabies inside centre in Saturday night’s Rugby Championship opener in Brisbane.
Matfield admitted he was wary of Giteau after leaving his Barbarians experience at Twickenham in 2009 impressed by the Australian.
“I was lucky enough to play in a Barbarians game with him,” Matfield said on Friday.
“He is a quality player who understands the game and understands how to win games.
“You see what he has done for (his French club) Toulon – he will bring a lot to the team.”
France-based Giteau earned a Wallabies return after the ARU changed eligibility rules for overseas-based players who have at least 60 Test caps.
But Matfield backed South Africa’s new look midfield combination, saying Australia were in the same boat with Giteau’s addition.
Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer named the rookie midfield pairing Damian de Allende – who has played just three Tests – and debutant Jesse Kriel.
Bulls fullback Kriel is expected to be targeted after being handed his first cap at outside centre in place of recovering former skipper Jean de Villiers (knee).
But Matfield reckoned Australia’s midfield combination also had some potential rust with Giteau in his first Wallabies team in four years.
Giteau’s inclusion marks Australia’s sixth different centre pairing in their past seven Tests against South Africa.
Giteau’s centre partner Tevita Kuridrani has only ever started outside Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano in his 20-Test career to date.
“They (de Allende, Kriel) are very young but that is good, you need that excitement of the youngsters coming through,” 121-Test line-out master Matfield said.
“They played together last week (in 46-10 win over World XV last weekend).
“For the Aussies although they are very experienced it will be the first time they have played together for a long time.
“I don’t know if Giteau has ever played with Kuridrani – it’s also a new combination for them.”
Matfield also looked forward to veteran flanker Schalk Burger’s battle with surprise Wallabies No.8 Scott Higginbotham.
Burger has been picked out of position at No.8, replacing Warren Whiteley in the only change to the Springboks’ starting side which thrashed a World XV.
Burger was slotted into the back of the scrum in a highly mobile back-row designed to negate David Pocock and Michael Hooper.
Matfield believed a wonderful duel awaited between Burger and Australia’s X-factor Higginbotham.
“I was not really surprised (they picked Higginbotham) if you look at what he does in Super Rugby,” he said.
“I always thought he was the form No.8 for a long time.
“He is a very good player, a good lineout option as well and scores a lot of tries – he almost has that X-factor.”