New Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer was considering Matfield, a veteran of 110 tests and the driving force behind their powerful lineout, for the three-test series against England next month, despite the 35-year-old announcing his retirement after last year’s World Cup.
With the series happening in the middle of the SuperRugby season, Meyer has little chance to work with his team, which will feature several new faces following the retirement of long-time captain John Smit, injuries to flanks Schalk Burger and Juan Smith, and the migration of stalwarts such as scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, centre Jaque Fourie, utility forward Danie Rossouw and prop Gurthro Steenkamp to overseas clubs.
Meyer is also facing a dilemma over who to appoint as captain because the frontrunner, Burger, has been ruled out of the England series due to a knee injury. The former Bulls coach previously hinted that Matfield could return to steer the team through the transitional period.
But an IRB rule stating that a player who has announced his retirement may not play international rugby for six months after his comeback has ruled out Matfield’s return.
The regulation is used by the IRB to prevent players who have used banned substances from suddenly retiring and then returning to the game once the drug is out of their system.
“We have discussed the option, but the International Rugby Board’s regulations counted against us,” Saru chief executive Jurie Roux told Reuters on Thursday.
“We would be keen to use Victor’s outstanding knowledge and have not ruled out the option of using it in some other way in the future.”
Matfield is acknowledged as the foremost student of lineout play in the game and is currently employed as an analyst by broadcasters SuperSport.
“I did want to play an experienced side, but a lot of players are not available,” Meyer said on a BBC radio interview this week. “There’s a big concern about the lack of time we have to train together. That’s why it’s difficult to pick a side because there will be injuries after those derbies. It’s not an ideal situation but you can’t make excuses,” he said.