Springboks

Jean back to No 13 for Boks?

2014-07-01 05:00
Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)

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 season.

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 Championship.

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

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