Cape Town – Jean de Villiers’s good nature in terms of positional
flexibility may be exploited once again in a few weeks’ time.
The first-choice Springbok captain, who missed the entire
June window period due to a knee injury, is an estimated four weeks away from a
return to full fitness, which gives him a reasonable chance of being ready –
albeit rather undercooked in match sharpness – for the Castle Rugby
Championship opener against Argentina at
Loftus on August 16.
His status was confirmed as the Stormers on Monday issued an
update on various sidelined players, some of whom will be available for
consideration for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Bulls at Newlands.
Both De Villiers and franchise colleague Damian de Allende,
another midfielder who had cracked the Bok squad nod a few weeks ago only to be
quickly struck down by wretchedly inconvenient injury himself, remain a few
weeks out from renewed activity.
There may well be no need to risk restoring De Villiers both
to his midfield spot and leadership too hastily, as the Boks – building
encouraging depth in several positions -- should be well capable of knocking
over the Pumas both home and away before they face the likely tougher
challenges of Australia and New Zealand.
But if the 33-year-old is, indeed, deemed 100 percent ready
to go against Argentina, it makes sense to begin banishing his cobwebs in
preparation for those stiffer hurdles ahead.
The possibility exists, given that coach Heyneke Meyer has
some availability issues in both midfield berths, that De Villiers will not
rejoin the fray, when he does, in his favoured No 12 jersey ... even though his
consistently constructive presence there was a key feature of the Boks’ 2013
Ironically, the Stormers stalwart has previously been
prepared to operate at outside centre instead, to facilitate the inclusion of
brawny Frans Steyn at twelve in the earliest phase of Meyer’s two-year tenure thus
far as national coach.
Much more recently, though, the single-minded Sharks utility
back quit the Bok camp under a cloud of controversy and his future at national
level remains unclear at present.
So with both Steyn and De Villiers out of action in recent
weeks for different reasons, exciting Bulls prospect Jan Serfontein has had
several opportunities in succession to confirm his credentials at inside centre
– he combined impressively with flyhalf and former Baby Bok colleague Handre
Pollard in the latest rout of Scotland in Port Elizabeth and is picking up
confidence and assertiveness with every outing.
Circumstance may just dictate that Meyer station De Villiers,
at least for the time being, back at No 13 for the Championship.
A partnership between Serfontein – his style of play better
suited to the inside channel -- and the more easily transferable De Villiers
could look the most attractive combo by the time Meyer gets his ducks in a row for
the first Pumas clash.
That scenario is underlined by another Bok centre stalwart
in Jaque Fourie still being out of the picture injured, JJ Engelbrecht having
seemingly slipped a little down the pecking order, De Allende’s absence plus
extreme rookie status anyway, and problems over JP Pietersen’s availability for
The Boks are apparently negotiating with Japanese teams to
see just how much they may be able to squeeze out of their players based there during
the southern-hemisphere competition, which clashes with a busy period of
Japanese club action.
Pietersen, who has been starting to settle nicely into his
new challenge at No 13 for South Africa, might well not be freed for any part
of the Championship: when he first signed for a two-year Japanese stint last
year, it was on the understanding that he would still be eligible for Sharks
duty in Super Rugby, and Bok activity in the June period and end-of-year tour,
but not in the other competition.
Bok midfield stocks, then, could stay reasonably depleted
for the Championship.
Serfontein at No 12, with De Villiers in the wider berth?
It seems quite a feasible prospect, even if Juan de Jongh,
reportedly over his pneumonia, may strive desperately hard over the next two
weekends in Super Rugby to revitalise his own Test centre aspirations and the
Sharks’ Paul Jordaan is also bubbling under ...
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing