Spies: Young Bulls feeding off Matfield
Even though the journey to restore his reputation as the best line-out lock has just started, Bulls captain Pierre Spies believes Victor Matfield’s return to Super Rugby is already having a positive effect on dynamics within the team.
Matfield is set to become the most capped South African Super Rugby player – he currently shares the record with John Smith and AJ Venter - on Friday when his team travels to Bloemfontein for what should be a grueling encounter with the Cheetahs, who also failed to start their season on a winning note.
Should he be called on from the bench, it will mark his 126th appearance in the physically taxing southern hemisphere competition.
Spies said that although the bulk of the Bulls squad were used feeding off his knowledge and insights as a coach during the 2013 season, his presence in on the field (and in a team jersey) is proving to be of great value to the team.
“As a player he brings a lot of calmness to the team, as well as a lot of experience to the game,” Spies told SARugby.com in an exclusive interview.
“It suites us perfectly and, playing off the bench, he can also make a massive impact in the late stages of the game.
“When I left the field last week we were in good hands with Victor, so it has been a really good move."
Spies conceded that he was not satisfied with the final result of their season opener against the Sharks and although he would never utter the words himself, Matfield’s first outing was a far cry from what the number eight had come to expect from the big man over the years.
Still, there were some very important positives the men from Pretoria would take from the match.
Top of the list was their performance at scrum time.
In what could very well be a first since Frans Ludeke took over the side in 2008 that the Bulls didn’t concede a penalty at scrum-time.
Ludeke noted on Tuesday that the backroom staff had focused a lot of attention on that facet of play during their pre-season – adding that it was encouraging to see his pack function as a unit.
As for Matfield’s role in the side, Spies stressed that Matfield’s influence has helped some of the younger men take greater responsibility for their role in the side.
“He (Matfield) gives a lot of confidence to the players around him and that is what you need when you are playing with players who still need to gain Super Rugby experience.”
On a personal level, Spies, who was sidelined through injury for most of last season, is carrying an arm injury and admitted that he is slightly frustrated with the fact that he is not at 100% at the moment.
“There is a bit of bruising and a bit of pain at the moment, but I have to manage that and get by week-by-week.”
By Michael Mentz at Loftus Versfeld