Cape Town - The Springboks will go into the June international season with a new captain after it was confirmed on Sunday that regular leader Jean de Villiers has been ruled out of rugby for eight weeks, the supersport.com website reports.
After experiencing some discomfort in his left knee on Saturday morning, De Villiers was ruled out of the DHL Stormers’ Vodacom Super Rugby derby match against the Toyota Cheetahs at Newlands. He was officially pulled out of the national training camp to take place in Durban for the first three days of this week late on Saturday, but his availability for the test season pended a medical assessment.
De Villiers underwent a scope in Cape Town on Sunday morning that confirmed what Bok coach Heyneke Meyer would have been fearing, with the prognosis according to a SARU press statement released on Sunday afternoon being that he will be out “for approximately eight weeks”, which effectively means he will be out for the next two months.
That means that apart from the June international matches featuring the Boks against a World XV, Wales twice and Scotland, De Villiers will also probably miss the two Super Rugby matches the Stormers are set to play against the Bulls and the Sharks at the conclusion of their campaign in July.
However, coach Heyneke Meyer is hoping that De Villiers will be back for the start of the Castle Lager Rugby Championship in August.
“Losing our captain is a massive setback,” said Meyer.
“Jean has been superb as our leader on and off the field and was in excellent form as well. He is a wonderful ambassador for South Africa and is respected across the world as a leader. We will certainly miss him next month.
“His injury is the latest in a string of setbacks we’ve experienced, and with Jaque Fourie also ruled out it means we will have to look for both a new midfield combination and a new captain.”
There are probably two main candidates to take over the captaincy in De Villiers’ absence. Bismarck du Plessis has grown in confidence as a leader at the helm of the Cell C Sharks, who top the Super Rugby log with three matches to play. And Victor Matfield, who is considered almost certain to wear his old Bok No 5 jersey in the early season test matches, has led the national side before and has usually done so successfully.
What Meyer will have to weigh up though whether he should thrust such a responsibility on Matfield’s shoulders at a time when he should be looking at re-establishing himself at international level after and absence of more than two and a half years.
With De Villiers sure to return as the captain when he is fit – Meyer has appointed him for the season – perhaps Meyer will appoint a leader on a match by match basis. For instance, he may not want to play Matfield in every test match during June, and ditto Du Plessis, who has played every game the Sharks have played in Super Rugby apart from the one against the Highlanders when he was out injured.
Adriaan Strauss is also a capable leader rated highly by Meyer and he could slot into the captaincy when either one or both of Matfield or Du Plessis are absent.
The national players arrived in Durban on a warm Sunday – it was 32 degrees in the early afternoon – and Meyer will be hoping that there are no more injury surprises waiting for him from the group that assembles.
For instance, Schalk Burger didn’t come out for the second half of the Stormers’ 33-0 rout of the Cheetahs at the weekend because of a neck spasm and although he says he expects to be ready to face the Sharks here on Saturday it is unlikely he will be able to make much onfield contribution in the early part of the week.
Frans Steyn is the obvious replacement for De Villiers at inside centre but outside centre is less clear cut. JJ Engelbrecht was the incumbent before Fourie was called back into international rugby from Japan last year, while Juan de Jongh is in good form for the Stormers, as is S’bura Sithole for the Sharks. All three of those players are part of the group called up for the camp, as is the influential Stormers inside centre Damian de Allende.
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