South Africa great Victor Matfield insisted he had no regrets about coming out of retirement as he prepared to play his final match for the Springboks.
The 38-year-old lock will bring the curtain down on his illustrious international career when he captains South Africa against Argentina in Friday’s World Cup third place play-off at London’s Olympic Stadium.
It may not be the way 2007 World Cup-winner Matfield wanted to finish. His aim in giving up coaching duties at the Bulls was to help South Africa lift the Webb Ellis Trophy in England.
However, there were those in South Africa who saw Matfield’s move, made at the request of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, as a backward step.
South Africa’s shock defeat by Japan in their pool opener — the greatest upset in World Cup history — did little to improve the mood amongst Springbok fans.
And although the team recovered to reach the last four, dreams of an unprecedented third World Cup title died with a 20-18 semi-final loss to New Zealand, the defending champions, at Twickenham last weekend.
“There hasn’t really been a lot of emotions this week about myself,” said Matfield on Thursday ahead of his 127th Test.
“I think the second time it’s a bit easier,” explained Matfield, who initially called time on his Test career after South Africa’s quarter-final defeat by Australia at the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand.
“I came back out of retirement to hopefully help this team win the World Cup. Unfortunately, we didn’t do that. We came very close.
“But I think after that Japan game something special happened to this team. It’s just been an unbelievable privilege to be part of that. Tomorrow, hopefully we can end on a high and do something special for this team and the country.”
Matfield made his Test debut on June 30, 2001 against Italy. His Test career, which on Friday will be 14 years and 122 days, will be the longest in Springbok rugby.
“It will be after the game I will reflect back and say it was a good innings,” said the second row stalwart.
“I enjoyed the (last) two years, enjoyed every moment in the green and gold.”
Asked about the highlights of his return to Test duty, Matfield said: “There were a few. Captaining the side against Wales in South Africa when I came back and then being involved in the one game when we beat New Zealand in South Africa (27-25 in Johannesburg last year) was very special.”
Matfield is now set to finish against an Argentina side who beat South Africa for the first time in August with a 37-25 victory in Durban.
“They’ve done unbelievably well,” said South Africa assistant coach Johann van Graan of the Pumas who have added back-line flair to their traditional forward strength.
“They’ve grown as a team. They’ve some world-class forwards and their backs have been unbelievable this tournament.
“Tomorrow will be a massive Test match between two of the top nations in the world,” he predicted.