Cape Town – The Springboks ought to have
much better clarity over Jean de Villiers’ suitability to the rigours of RWC
2015 after the next two matches against Argentina.
Unless anything has changed in his
delicately-managed comeback programme from long-term serious injury, he is
supposedly earmarked for at least some role in the Bok match-day mix when they
play the Pumas in Durban next Saturday and then Buenos Aires (non-Rugby
Championship Test) a week beyond that.
Not that appearances in either match will
necessarily clear the fog entirely. A bit like he has apparently been more
workmanlike than notably devastating – and understandably so – in pre-Currie
Cup outings for Western Province, it is possible De Villiers will again tick
the mere game-time box successfully rather than dazzle against the Argentineans
as his progress continues at a patient pace.
It is quite likely that simply “doing
enough” will be regarded by coach Heyneke Meyer as a further step in the right
direction ... and De Villiers will then duly be installed as captain for the
World Cup squad, announced at the end of August.
There can be little doubt that the expected
scenario – Meyer is very faithful to his long-time preferred leader and it is
hard to see that changing so close to RWC after De Villiers’ gutsy fightback crusade
– will ruffle some feathers among fans and critics.
That will be not least because of the
rightful fears over the Boks having to disturb the blossoming midfield alliance
between Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel in order to accommodate the massively
Yet the demands of a World Cup are rather different
to those of an unusually low-key, experiment-laden Rugby Championship and sound
judges will not be slow to acknowledge that Meyer doesn’t necessarily want to
or have to employ both rookies as his first-choice combo at the planet’s
For all the fine strides made by these and
other young guns over the past few weeks, seasoned characters remain absolutely
essential squad elements whenever RWC comes around – whether as starters for
particular challenges or very handy substitutes to infuse for calming purposes
when a pressure game needs closing out.
The Boks lie nought-from-two in the
Championship partly for the very reason that plenty of their current, callow
crop of starting players are simply not used to winning frequently against
premier-tier foes – we saw evidence of that against both the Wallabies and All
Blacks recently when certain flaws still stalked some of the personnel who
otherwise shone in games South Africa so nearly did enough to bag.
Yes, De Villiers looks a risk as things
stand ... but then so, for different reasons, is the De Allende-Kriel midfield
pairing, given the mere handful of Test caps spread between the two. They look
like the future -- the more immediate, toughest of all rugby events may bring
slightly different requirements.
So the blond veteran may very well prove to
be a perfect, balancing presence at centre in the World Cup and the fact that
he can operate comfortably in either a No 12 or 13 capacity means doors hardly
slam brutally shut on either De Allende or Kriel (or others) for tournament
Also to consider is that De Allende can
cover wing; he has played there with some success at Super Rugby level. And
speaking of that competition, let’s not forget that for metres gained in the
2015 event, Bulls dynamo Kriel was statistically second only to Israel Folau
among fullbacks – he certainly offers possibilities if need be in the last line
of defence for the Boks.
It is also all too easy to recklessly brand
a particular player a “has been”, simply because of his age on paper and the
fact that – as in De Villiers’ case – he has been out of the top-flight fray
for a considerable time.
Class is permanent, and for the vast
majority of his tenure as Bok leader since Meyer accepted the coaching reins in
2012, De Villiers was a wily and assured presence in the team and well
respected by those under his command.
He may not possess the pace of old, and
maybe that has been comprised a bit further, but he is still capable of facilitating
others playing constructively off him, and massively able to gauge the mood and
tempo of matches.
He has also excelled in the
diplomacy/public relations area and that is not an unimportant consideration
for a World Cup, where being able to charm the unforgiving British media in
particular onto your side is no bad step.
I would be extremely comfortable,
personally, with De Villiers as our “squad captain” in the United Kingdom -- even
if match-day, start-out team leader need not necessarily be cast in stone every
The Boks are blessed with a strong
leadership group, after all ... to the extent that the tournament skipper is
not necessarily the be-all and end-all of their templates and goals.
Victor Matfield is a Super Rugby/Currie Cup
and sometimes Test captain of huge longevity, former Stormers first-choice
leader Schalk Burger demonstrated against the All Blacks in Johannesburg that
holding the reins has no impact whatsoever on his tremendous own work ethic and
class, and people like Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez are natural leaders
of men too.
The Boks’ way of doing things - now in
Meyer’s fourth year as head coach - would not suddenly go violently out of
kilter with any of these figures in charge.
Besides, if the Boks make smooth headway,
as they should, through the pool phase, they are likely to rotate their
selections to a degree, and that might apply as much to captaincy.
But just by being around, Jean de Villiers
offers so much to the Boks.
Captain at the World Cup? I don’t see a problem,
whether he is on the actual field of combat or immediately alongside it as a
canny, potentially attractive substitute whose leadership will come forcefully
into play at the business end of tight clashes.
After all, that last half hour or so is
precisely where the Boks have tended to turn headless chicken of late ...
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing