CAPE TOWN, Jan 31 (Reuters) - World Cup-winning lock Victor Matfield has resumed his rugby playing career after three years out of the game and could yet feature in the 2015 tournament at the age of 38 after his return was welcomed by South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer.
Matfield, one of the most dominant and athletic second rows in the game at his peak, signed a two-year contract with the Pretoria-based Blue Bulls on Friday and immediately sparked speculation that he could feature in his fourth World Cup.
Matfield previously played Super Rugby in 2011 and won the last of his 110 caps for the Springboks at the World Cup in New Zealand the same year.
He has signed a playing contract for the 2014 and 2015 seasons and will then re-join the coaching staff at the Bulls for 2016 and 2017 having been in the latter role for the past 12 months.
“To have someone with Victor’s experience available for selection, as well as his expertise on the training field, is a win-win situation for us,” Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said in a statement on Friday.
“He will not only add value as a senior player on the field but will also continue to mentor younger players with his vast experience of rugby at all levels.”
Springbok coach Meyer has welcomed the return of Matfield, who is just one behind the all-time cap leader John Smit’s record of 111, and opened the door for him to return to the national side.
“I have always maintained that we have a lack of depth at number five lock and believed that Victor could still make a valuable contribution as a player,” Meyer said in a SARU statement.
“I’m glad that Victor has decided to do put on his boots again and I’m looking forward to seeing him in action. 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 to play for South Africa.
“Our depth at lock in South Africa isn’t great. Experienced players such as Andries Bekker and Juandre Kruger are now playing abroad, while Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit have missed a fair amount of rugby in the last year because of injuries.
“Victor has always been a world-class rugby player and 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.
“We’ve seen in the past that players can make a successful return to rugby after a lengthy period on the sidelines. Jake White successfully brought back Os du Randt and Bob Skinstad, who both played a vital role when the Springboks won the World Cup in 2007. More recently Schalk Burger and Juan Smith both made a successful return from career-threatening injuries.”
Matfield will be on the bench for Saturday's Super Rugby warm-up match between the Bulls and Stormers in Polokwane. (Editing by Mitch Phillips; email@example.com +27832722948 Messaging firstname.lastname@example.org; To sign up for our Global Sports Forum chatroom, click here)