Victor Matfield hails the Bakkies Botha-like enforcer that strikes fear into opposition packs

Colin Newboult
Springboks legends Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha alongside Ireland lock Joe McCarthy.

Springboks legends Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha alongside Ireland lock Joe McCarthy.

Springboks legend Victor Matfield has likened Ireland’s Joe McCarthy to his former team-mate, the great Bakkies Botha, after his starring role in the Six Nations.

Botha and Matfield played together for years, forming one of the great lock partnerships in the sport’s history.

While Matfield was the lineout expert and could excel in the wider channels due to his vast skill set, Botha was the enforcer.

Setting the tone

He would never take a step backwards and often set the physical tone for the Springboks, becoming a genuine legend in South African rugby as a result.

At times, it led to some disciplinary issues, but his impact on the Boks could not be understated, which is why the comparison is quite the compliment for McCarthy.

The 23-year-old has always been highly regarded but his rise to the very top has been sudden considering that he was not a regular starter for Leinster last season.

His performances at the Rugby World Cup propelled him into the limelight and since then he has taken on a key role for the province.

That led to him featuring significantly in the Six Nations, starting all five of Ireland’s matches as they claimed the title for the second successive year.

Their opening match against France was when McCarthy announced himself as a special talent and Matfield admitted that he was “very surprised” by the youngster’s level.

“When they picked him ahead of some other experienced guys, I thought who is this guy, and he stepped up,” the Boks legend said.

“He had a really good Six Nations. He’s a fantastic ball carrier, he’s always in your face.

“When you have that one guy in your pack that you know everyone in the other pack looks at and thinks, ‘ah, do I want to take him on or take a step back?’ Then you’re really on the front foot.

“That’s what we always had with Bakkies Botha, it didn’t matter where we went, we always knew the other guys were thinking that when he was arriving at the ruck.”

South Africa tour

McCarthy’s next challenge internationally will come when Ireland take on South Africa in a huge two-Test tour in July.

Eben Etzebeth, who is the Springboks’ current enforcer, has widely been regarded as the best lock in the world over the past couple of years.

Providing both manage to stay injury-free, it could well be a titanic clash as the two countries vie for the number one spot.

Plenty is therefore at stake for both teams in that series and McCarthy could well be key for Andy Farrell’s men if they are to beat South Africa.

“He’s very good for Ireland – it’s going to be very interesting seeing him over here in South Africa,” Matfield added. “He’s going to be valuable to that Irish pack for a long time to come.”

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