Victor Matfield will on Saturday become the most-capped Test player in the history of South African rugby when he leads the Springboks against Wales in his 112th Test match at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
Matfield made his Test debut on 30 June 2001 against Italy in Port Elizabeth. He retired after the Rugby World Cup in 2011 on 110 caps, but made a highly successful return to the game earlier this year.
“This is a fantastic accolade for Victor,” said Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer on Wednesday.
“He has been a terrific servant of the game in South Africa and has led his country with distinction since returning to the Green and Gold.
“When he returned to the game earlier this season, he set his goals on becoming a Springbok yet again and he’s worked extremely hard to get there. I don’t think anyone can doubt that he deserves his place in the team and he’s also been a great interim captain, with Jean de Villiers out injured.”
Matfield, who is also the most-capped Vodacom Super Rugby player in South Africa, will captain a Springbok starting line-up which shows two changes from the team which beat Wales by 38-16 in Durban last week.
Both changes are in the pack, where Tendai Mtawarira returns at loosehead prop, with Gurthrö Steenkamp reverting to the bench, while Flip van der Merwe will partner Matfield in the second row in the place of Bakkies Botha.
The only other change to the team is amongst the backline reserves, where Wynand Olivier replaces the injured Johan Goosen to provide necessary midfield cover. Ruan Pienaar will provide backup for scrumhalf and flyhalf, while Lwazi Mvovo can cover fullback and wing.
Commenting on the team selection, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said it was an easy decision to stick with the core of the team which beat the Welsh last weekend in Durban.
“I’ve always preferred to stick with a winning combination and the changes to the team were both part of our planning,” said Meyer.
“The backline really performed well last weekend and we would like to give them another opportunity to play together, as there were a number of new combinations.
“The same applies upfront. Bakkies is fit for selection, but we decided to manage his workload this week and I know Flip, who has been outstanding in the last two seasons, will slot back in easily. The same goes for ‘Beast’, who upped the tempo with his work rate last weekend.”
Meyer said he is expecting another tough challenge from Wales this weekend.
“They’ve had another week together and will be keen to lift their game on Saturday, but at the same time we were not happy with certain aspects of our game and we’ve worked hard to rectify that,” said Meyer.
“This is their last match of the season, so we’re expecting them to come out firing. But we also want to make a step up and ensure we keep on improving as the season progresses.”
The Springbok team to face Wales in Nelspruit is:
15 Willie le Roux - 13 caps, 25 Test points
14 Cornal Hendricks - 1 cap, 5 Test points
13 JP Pietersen - 52 caps, 80 Test points
12 Jan Serfontein - 10 caps, 5Test points
11 Bryan Habana - 96 caps, 275 Test points
10 Morné Steyn - 55 caps, 649 Test points
9 Fourie du Preez (vice-captain) - 68 caps, 75 Test points
8 Duane Vermeulen - 17 caps, 10 Test points
7 Willem Alberts - 31 caps, 35 Test points
6 Francois Louw - 29 caps, 25 Test points
5 Victor Matfield (captain) - 111 caps, 35 Test points
4 Flip van der Merwe - 34 caps, 5 Test points
3 Jannie du Plessis - 52 caps, 5 Test points
2 Bismarck du Plessis (vice-captain) - 58 caps, 45 Test points
1 Tendai Mtawarira - 54 caps, 10 Test points
16 Schalk Brits - 6 caps, 0 Test points
17 Gurthrö Steenkamp - 50 caps, 30 Test points
18 Coenie Oosthuizen - 15 caps, 10 Test points
19 Lood de Jager - 1 cap, 0 Test points
20 Schalk Burger - 69 caps, 65 Test points
21 Ruan Pienaar - 75 caps, 130 Test points
22 Wynand Olivier - 37 caps, 5 Test points
23 Lwazi Mvovo - 8 caps, 5 Test points
Stats and facts:
• The Springbok starting team boasts a total of 681 Test caps (295 in the backline and 386 in the forwards), while there are a further 261 caps worth of experience on the bench.
• South Africa and Wales have played each other 28 times since 1906, with the Springboks winning 26 Tests, losing one and one was drawn. The Springboks have scored 777 points and 97 tries and conceded 398 points and 33 tries for an average score of 28-14.
• Victor Matfield will be playing in his 112th Test for the Springboks, breaking the record he shared with John Smit. He will be playing against Wales for the 12th time and will also extend his record of 111 appearances as a lock for South Africa.
• Bryan Habana will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok wing, with 95 Tests in this position and if he scores a try, will extend his record of 55 Test tries for South Africa. He has also played in one Test at outside centre.
• Morné Steyn will extend his record as the most-capped Springbok flyhalf, with 53 Tests in this position. If he scores a try, he will also extend his record of eight Test tries as a flyhalf for South Africa.
• If he scores a try, Bismarck du Plessis will extend his record of nine test tries for South Africa as a hooker. Bismarck and his brother Jannie will also be playing together in their 33rd Test, which is a Springbok record for brothers.
• Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis and Jannie du Plessis will extend their record of 15 Tests as a front row for South Africa.
• If he goes on Schalk Burger will extend his record as the most capped Springbok flank, with 67 Tests in this position. He also shares the record with Juan Smith for the most Test tries as a flank (11).
• If he goes on and scores a try, Gurthrö Steenkamp will extend his own record of six tries as a prop for South Africa.
• Ruan Pienaar, Schalk Burger and Flip van der Merwe are the sons of ex-Springboks Gysie Pienaar, Schalk Burger (Snr) and Flippie van der Merwe (Snr), while Francois Louw is the grandson of ex-Springbok Jan Pickard.
• Wynand Olivier last played for the Springboks on 23 June 2012 against England in Port Elizabeth.
• The referee is Steve Walsh of Australia (previously New Zealand). This will be his 16th Test involving South Africa. The Springboks have won 11, lost one and three were drawn. His last game was the Test against Argentina on 24 August 2013 in Mendoza, which the Boks won 22-17.
• Springbok Test match records at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit :
o Most points – 10 (2c, 2p) by Morne Steyn on 15 June, 2013 against Scotland.
o Most tries – one each by JJ Engelbrecht and Jan Serfontein on 15 June, 2013 against Scotland.
o Most conversions – two by Morne Steyn on 15 June, 2013 against Scotland.
o Most penalty goals – two by Morne Steyn on 15 June, 2013 against Scotland.
o Most drop goals – none.