Matfield gets warm welcome on Toulon debut

South African World Cup winner Victor Matfield became the latest big name to make his bow with ambitious French second-division side Toulon on Saturday.

The giant lock forward, who hadn’t played since helping the Springboks to a second World Cup title on October 20, won generous applause after coming on as a second-half replacement as Toulon went on to beat La Rochelle 36-0.

Matfield was watched by colourful club president Mourad Boudjelal and a crowd of 12 000 fans and almost capped his debut with a try in the 71st minute but was held up just short of the line.

”It’s a great crowd and I haven’t seen something like that for a long time. It was definitely very good,” said Matfield, who admitted he still has work to do on his conditioning following his two-month lay-off.

”I’m not as fit as I probably can be. I have some work to do but we will begin slowly, and just keeping working every week.

”I think the level of the game was good. It was quite physical but the team did very well.”

Fellow import, former All Black flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens, also enjoyed a memorable day, kicking 21 of his team’s points as Toulon recovered from their first defeat of the season, a 33-0 loss to Agen just before the winter break.

Toulon, who can also boast former Wallabies skipper George Gregan in their ranks and are coached by former All Blacks captain Tana Umaga, are well on course for promotion. They have an eight-point lead over Mont-de-Marsan. — Sapa-AFP

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