Tri-Nations title in reach of Boks' destructive duo

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The Independent Online

Collectively, they represent a formidable 228kg (488lb) of South African weight, and 4.03 metres (13ft 2ins) of muscle and intimidation.

The sheer symbolism of the Springbok locks Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha standing alongside one another for the playing of the national anthems before a Test match sends a powerful, intimidating message to opponents the world over. That unspoken, silent threat to their foes is succinct yet hardly subtle. It says, in effect: "If you want to win, you have to get past us."

In Hamilton, New Zealand this morning, Matfield and Botha will be attempting to help overpower the All Blacks and clinch the 2009 Tri-Nations title for South Africa. If they lift the trophy, for the first time since 2004, a major reason will be the iron axis of Matfield and Botha at the heart of the powerful forward pack which has played so fundamental a role in the Springboks' successes of recent years. Since their great partnership was formed for the first time in the 2003 Tri-Nations, they have played together in 52 Test matches, a world record. Botha jokes, "Sometimes I feel we know each other better than we know our wives." Bakkies, all 6ft 7in and 240lb of him, is the so-called enforcer, but notions that he is merely a physical bruiser, a bully are hopelessly wide of the mark. At 32, Matfield is the senior of the two, eight pounds heavier but an inch smaller. Not that the latter prevents him being the finest line-out exponent in world rugby. His propensity for winning opponents' throws as well as dominating his own, is renowned.

Individually, then, they excel but the combination far exceeds the sum of the respective parts. "I think we are a perfect combination because the things I do well and the things he does well complement each other," Botha says. "It has been a privilege to play alongside him and it is amazing what calmness he brings to the team, especially at line-out time."