CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- Victor Matfield will attempt to win the Rugby World Cup again with South Africa next year at the age of 38 after his playing return was announced on Friday -- more than two years after he retired.
The Bulls Super Rugby team said Matfield accepted a contract to play again for the 2014 and 2015 seasons and South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer immediately welcomed the move by the player he used to coach at the Pretoria-based Bulls.
"I'm glad that Victor has decided to put on his boots again and I'm looking forward to seeing him in action," Meyer said in a statement from the South African Rugby Union that swiftly followed the Bulls' announcement. "He was not given any guarantees about Springbok selection. If he can show he still has what it takes to be a Springbok, he will be considered along with every other player who is eligible."
South Africa has struggled to fill the second-rower's place after he retired with 110 test appearances -- the second most for the Springboks -- following the loss to Australia in the quarterfinals at the 2011 World Cup. Meyer was open to a return by Matfield as early as 2012, the coach's first season in charge of the Springboks.
"I have always maintained that we have a lack of depth at (No.) 5 lock and believed that Victor could still make a valuable contribution as a player," Meyer said, meaning it's probable that Matfield will be called up by the Springboks this season if his return for the Bulls in Super Rugby is successful.
The 36-year-old Matfield's first top-level game in over two years will come straight away on Saturday, the Bulls said, when he will play off the bench in a Super 15 warm-up game against the Cape-Town based Stormers and show if he's capable of making the step up again.
"He has shown on the training field in the last couple of months that he is still hungry to succeed at the top levels of the game," Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said.
Matfield's return was widely expected, with his contact negotiations with the Bulls the only thing holding up confirmation. He had been working as part of the team's coaching staff and a deal to keep him with the Bulls as a coach in 2016 and 2017 after his playing stint was part of the agreement.
Matfield was outstanding for South Africa when it won the World Cup in 2007. He captained the Bulls to all three of their Super Rugby titles and has played more games, including tour games, for South Africa than any player. Only former skipper John Smit with 111 caps has played more tests.
The lock and lineout specialist's return is almost certainly so he can make one more appearance at the World Cup in Britain next year and try and help the Springboks wrestle the trophy away from New Zealand. Meyer hinted as much when he talked about the recalls of veterans Os du Randt and Bob Skinstad by South Africa in the 2007 World Cup triumph.
"We've seen in the past that players can make a successful return to rugby after a lengthy period on the sidelines," Meyer said. "(Former South Africa coach) Jake White successfully brought back Os du Randt and Bob Skinstad, who both played a vital role when the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
"Victor ... knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level. I'm sure he would not have made this decision had he known he would not be able to compete or believed he could be the best in his position again."