Springboks reunite Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha
June 5, 2014
Victor Matfield has surpassed expectations since returning to rugby © Getty Images
Veteran second-rowers Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha will start alongside each other for the first time in three years in South Africa's season-opening game against a World XV at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
Matfield reclaimed the No.5 jersey for the Springboks' first game of 2014 after returning from retirement at the start of the year, and was named captain in the absence of injured skipper Jean de Villiers. He was joined in coach Heyneke Meyer's team by Botha, who was recalled at the end of last year.
Matfield, 37, has 110 Test caps, the second most for the Springboks, while Botha, 34, has played 78 Tests, and the 2007 Rugby World Cup winners hold the Test record as the most capped lock combination. But they haven't played together for the Springboks since Matfield retired after the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
"If anyone told me two years ago that Victor and Bakkies would play together again for the Boks, I probably wouldn't have believed it," Meyer said. "They have been great servants of the game in South Africa and now have the opportunity to take it further."
Meyer also brought another of South Africa's 2007 World Cup winners back into the fold when he picked flanker Schalk Burger on the bench, the coach keen to include more experience in the set-up. Burger, like Matfield, hasn't played for South Africa since the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand, in his case because of a string of injuries and illness.
At the other end of the scale of experience, wing Cornal Hendricks was handed his Springboks debut after representing the Sevens team while the world No.2-ranked team will feature a new centre combination in Francois Steyn and regular wing JP Pietersen.
South Africa play the World XV before hosting two Tests against Wales and one against Scotland.
South Africa: Willie le Roux; Cornal Hendricks, JP Pietersen, Francois Steyn, Bryan Habana; Morne Steyn, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermeulen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw; Victor Matfield (captain), Bakkies Botha; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements: Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, Johan Goosen, Lwazi Mvovo.
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