Durban - Jean de Villiers called his appointment as Springbok captain “the proudest moment of my career” after he was unveiled as the new leader for the forthcoming three-Test series against England starting on Saturday.
The 31-year-old, who made his debut almost 10 years ago against France in Marseilles, becomes the 54th South African captain and succeeds veteran hooker John Smit who retired from international rugby last year.
De Villiers learnt about his appointment late on Sunday night after meeting with Bok coach Heyneke Meyer at the team hotel in Durban.
“My heart was in my throat when Heyneke told me about his decision,” De Villiers said.
“I made my debut 10 years ago and to look at it today, 10 years later, I feel like that 21-year-old back then getting my first cap.
“It’s a great honour and great privilege and it’s definitely the highlight.”
The Stormers' captain has won 73 caps for South Africa and was a World Cup winner with the team in 2007.
Meyer said he was impressed with De Villiers's leadership qualities both on and off the field.
“Jean commands respect from everyone in South African rugby and, in the short space of time we’ve worked together, he has shown that he understands what we want to achieve on the field," Meyer said.
“He will be surrounded by a core of strong leaders in the squad and we have the utmost faith in them.”
Meyer had conceded previously that he faced a tough choice for the captaincy due to the quality of leadership within his squad.
Four of South Africa’s five Super Rugby captains - De Villiers, Keegan Daniel (Sharks), Pierre Spies (Bulls) and Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs) - are in the team.
The new skipper felt those players, as well as the other experienced men in the side, would be key during his time in charge.
“A leader is only as strong as the rest of his team,” De Villiers said.
“I’m going to rely on the senior players to help me in this role.
“You basically have all the captains here, bar Josh Strauss. So there are a lot of leaders and I’m definitely going to rely on those guys to help me with the big decisions.”
The Springbok centre also acknowledged that he had big shoes to fill in the role.
“I’ve had the privilege to play under some great captains," De Villiers said.
"I made my debut under Corné Krige and also played under John [Smit] and Victor [Matfield]," he said.
“You take all the good out of those guys, you learn from that and hopefully apply that to the team now, obviously with your own personal touch.”
Meanwhile, the Springboks held their first training routine in Durban earlier on Monday, with team doctor Craig Roberts confirming that all 32-members of the squad were fit and took part in the session.