Jean’s move to leave Stormers light?

2015-10-28 12:27
Jean de Villiers (Gallo)

Cape Town – The confirmation this week that internationally-retired Springbok captain Jean de Villiers is to extend his rugby career by six months with Leicester Tigers from December 1 serves as a simultaneous reminder that the Stormers could be pretty thin in midfield for Super Rugby 2016.

It came as a bit of a surprise to this writer a few weeks ago when strong rumours first surfaced that De Villiers, 34, would sign for the English Premiership outfit, even acknowledging that it makes sound financial sense for him to end his illustrious playing days with a welcome, pounds-based shot in the arm.

In a comprehensive Sport24 interview in early February, as he began his gutsy comeback against fairly long odds to make the RWC 2015 cut after his horrific leg and knee injury against Wales at the end of 2014, De Villiers told me of his ongoing appetite for rugby – one that would probably ensure he extended his playing activity even if the World Cup were to prove too premature a goal.

“I want to keep playing rugby for as long as I can because once it’s over, it’s over ... I still love the game,” he had enthused.

“Because I will be absent for this (Super Rugby 2015) season, I will definitely consider another season with the Stormers.”

Much can change – and obviously now has! -- over the course of several months, and the period developed into the kind of up-and-down one from an injury luck point of view that has been a regular hallmark of De Villiers’s career.

First he patiently worked himself into a suitable fitness position to lead the Boks at RWC 2015, but then successive jaw breaks cruelly intervened as well – the second came late in game two of the World Cup pool stage against Samoa at Villa Park, just as he was showing real signs of prior sharpness returning.

Until he finally does hang up his boots in a few months, De Villiers will never surrender the tactical nous and defensive ability and organisational skills that come naturally to the 109-cap Springbok.

It is that street wisdom, plus his ability to cover both midfield stations, that the Stormers could miss more than they anticipate as they regroup for the 2016 Super Rugby season with Japan mastermind Eddie Jones excitingly in charge of things (if he isn’t snatched away for an irresistibly high-level international post in the interim).

After all, De Villiers was a popular, reassuring part of the Super Rugby furniture at Newlands for most campaigns since 2005, even if there was a brief interruption around the 2009/10 period when he played for Munster.

While he was away, the Stormers did boast the mighty presence of Jaque Fourie as a senior general in their midfield, which helped to soften the blow of his absence.

In terms of next year, the franchise could be in some peril if emerging Bok No 12 talent Damian de Allende gets injured during the gruelling campaign: as things stand, they are not hugely blessed with proven depth at centre for the SANZAR competition.

Juan de Jongh has sadly become increasingly vulnerable to injuries himself, and is arguably not the sprightly force of two or three years ago, versatile Bok backliner Jaco Taute continues to blow decidedly hot and cold since his switch from Johannesburg, whilst Johnny Kotze and Huw Jones have promise but could still be said to be finding their feet one tier lower, at Currie Cup level.

The Stormers’ resources generally do not look hugely convincing on paper in the four-strong line between scrumhalf and outside centre, with lack of real muscle and height (De Allende exempted) just a couple of the shortcomings.

Even as the franchise admirably beefs up its arsenal in other positions – men like Pieter-Steph du Toit and JC Janse van Rensburg are fine pack recruits -- and continues to develop players of quality extremely diligently at age-group levels, I suspect they could come to rue not having the broad “presence” of De Villiers one more time amidst the midfield resources.

There is a case for saying De Villiers, also a long-time captain of the Stormers, had served his time in Cape Town and that, especially under a new coaching regime, there comes a juncture when you have to refresh and move on.  

But with Steven Kitshoff and Duane Vermeulen also quite monumental losses to northern climes, the Stormers are surrendering a trio of hugely influential figures in one go, giving them a bit of a “one step forward, one step back” look for 2016 and that elusive quest to finally snare the big overall prize.

All I know is that earlier this year, De Villiers publicly expressed his keenness to keep contributing to the cause.

As steely and workmanlike a soldier as you will find, he would have brought value and immeasurable expertise next year.

As he always has done ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    stormers  |  jean de villiers  |  cape town  |  rugby

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