x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Matfield and Botha to link up again for Springboks

With 188 Springboks Test caps between them, Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha will reunite in South Africa's second row against a World XV on Saturday for the first time since 2011.

Victor Matfield celebrates his 100th Springboks Test cap on August 28, 2010. Paballo Thekiso / AFP
Victor Matfield celebrates his 100th Springboks Test cap on August 28, 2010. Paballo Thekiso / AFP

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 match against a World XV on Saturday.

Matfield was picked as stand-in captain in the absence of injured skipper Jean de Villiers and immediately reclaimed his old No 5 jersey for the Springboks’ first game of 2014 after returning from retirement at the start of the year.

He was joined in coach Heyneke Meyer’s squad announcement on Wednesday by Botha, who was recalled at the end of last year. Both were World Cup winners in 2007 and hold the Test record as the most-capped lock combination, but haven’t played together for the Springboks since Matfield retired after the 2011 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.”

The 37-year-old Matfield has 110 Test caps, the second most for the Springboks, while Botha, who is 34, has played 78 Tests.

Continuing his trend of looking to include more experience in the setup, Meyer brought another of South Africa’s 2007 World Cup winners back into the fold when he picked flanker Schalk Burger on the bench. Like Matfield, Burger hasn’t played for his country since the last World Cup in New Zealand because of a string of injuries and illness.

Wing Cornal Hendricks was handed his South Africa 15-a-side debut after representing the sevens team, and the No 2-ranked Springboks will have a new centre combination in Francois Steyn and regular wing JP Pietersen. Morne Steyn was at flyhalf and Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar was at scrumhalf with Fourie du Preez on the bench. Saracens hooker Schalk Brits was also included among the reserves.

Toulon wing Bryan Habana starts at No 11 with Willie le Roux at fullback. Meyer retained his regular front row of Tendai Mtawarira and du Plessis brothers Bismarck and Jannie. The favoured loose forward combination from last season of No 8 Duane Vermeulen and flankers Francois Louw and Willem Alberts was also retained.

South Africa plays the World XV at Newlands before hosting two Tests against Wales and one against Scotland this month. South Africa last played against a World XV at home in 1989.

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. Reserves: Schalk Brits, Gurthro Steenkamp, Coenie Oosthuizen, Flip van der Merwe, Schalk Burger, Fourie du Preez, Johan Goosen, Lwazi Mvovo.

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