New national coach Heyneke Meyer seriously considered bringing lock Matfield himself out of retirement to lead the Springboks, but an International Rugby Board ruling that retired players cannot play test rugby within six months of making their comeback scuppered that idea.
Scrumhalf Du Preez, who is currently playing his rugby in Japan for Suntory Goliath, has been widely named in South African media as the next Springbok captain, although it is believed contractual obligations to his club could rule him out of the first test against England.
“Fourie would be a great choice as captain, I think he would do very well. It’s important that the captain knows exactly how Heyneke wants to play – he will be his voice on the field. Plus he’s a fantastic player and everyone has huge respect for him,” Matfield told Reuters on Wednesday.
Du Preez, who boasts one of the most accurate tactical kicking boots in world rugby, was an integral part of the Blue Bulls teams that won four Currie Cups and a SuperRugby title under Meyer’s coaching between 2000 and 2007 and would fit seamlessly into the structure-based game plan the new Springbok coach is known to favour.
“In terms of tactics, there’s nobody better than Fourie and he is a guy who Heyneke will trust. The kicking game is still very important in international rugby, but Fourie also gives flow to the game. Everyone talks about his kicking, but people forget that he is also brilliant with the way he puts other players into space. Guys like Francois Hougaard [Springbok scrumhalf in waiting] and Morne Steyn [flyhalf] can still learn a lot from him,” Matfield said.
Du Preez was acknowledged as the architect of South Africa’s march to the 2007 World Cup crown, adding pace from the base of the scrums and rucks and brilliant reading of the game to his superb kicking skills, especially when the Springboks whitewashed England 36-0 in the pool stages.
There has been speculation that the 30-year-old Du Preez would lack the sharpness required for international rugby after spending the last season playing in the less intense Japanese league, but Matfield said it would be a fresh “general” that would take the field for the Springboks.
“I haven’t seen him play over there, but we’ve done a bit of training together. Talking to him, he’s very confident, he’s been playing very well and he said it’s the best he’s felt for a long time, he doesn’t have any niggling injuries. I definitely think he’ll be able to make the step up to test rugby,” Matfield said.
Of his own potential comeback, Matfield said: “The hope of playing again was exciting and it was a serious possibility. But it’s never 100% possible, we tried to get things in place but it just wasn’t allowed.”
The Springbok squad to play England in the three-test series will be announced in Pretoria on Saturday.