Matfield could lead Springboks again

by staff

Rumours that South African rugby legend Victor Matfield will come out of retirement and lead his country in a three-Test June home series against England are refusing to go away.

Initially dismissed as an April Fools joke orchestrated by the local media, a belief that the 34-year-old World Cup winner could play for the Springboks again after retiring last October gathered strength this week.

Injuries to flankers Schalk Burger and Juan Smith - considered the main candidates to succeed retired hooker John Smit as skipper - have complicated the captaincy issue with the first Test less than two months away.

The expected return of Burger for the ongoing Western Stormers' Super Rugby tour of Australasia failed to materialise after he was injured on the opening weekend of the season and Smith may be sidelined until next year.

"New Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer asked me to make a comeback to the playing field and it is something I am giving thought to, but we are a long way from anything being decided," stressed Matfield in a television interview.

"If it were not Heyneke asking me I would not even be considering it," added the 110-cap warrior, whose dream of a second World Cup was dashed last October by a narrow quarter-final loss to Australia in Wellington.

Matfield has been working as a consultant to the Northern Bulls, with whom he won three Super Rugby titles with, and as a touchline analyst for Johannesburg-based pay channel SuperSport.

Meyer heightened speculation over the Springbok icon on Thursday after a four-day Pretoria planning camp with selected players from the Golden Lions and Central Cheetahs Super Rugby squads.

"The captain for the England Test series will not necessarily be the same one for the rest of the season," he said referring to six southern hemisphere championship games and a three-Test end-of-season tour to the United Kingdom.

"I will probably announce the captain a week before the first Test against England and there are a lot of great leaders to choose from," added the coach who succeeded controversial Peter de Villiers after the 2011 World Cup.

However, with Keegan Daniel (Coastal Sharks), Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs) and Josh Strauss (Lions) unlikely starters against England and Burger injured, that leaves only eighthman Pierre Spies (Bulls) among the Super Rugby skippers.

Meyer said 2011 World Cup first-choice outside centre Jaque Fourie would not be available for Springbok selection while serving a two-year contract with Japanese outfit Kobe Steelers.

Butch James, fly-half when the Springboks defeated England in the 2003 World Cup final at Stade de France, announced his retirement from Test rugby this week after a 42-cap career.

South Africa host England on June 9 at Kings Park in Durban.