A second broken jaw in 49 days, which ended Springbok captain Jean de Villiers’ brave odyssey to be a part of the World Cup has raised questions about whether he should even have been selected in the first place.
Having badly injured his left knee while playing against Wales in Cardiff in November last year, De Villiers made it his goal to be on the plane when the Springboks left for England in September.
He had revealed it was the sixth knee surgery he’d undergone and that the joint had to be reconstructed using artificial fibres, as all the tendons that might have been taken from his own body had already been used.
The skipper miraculously had a brief outing off the bench against a World XV at Newlands on July 11 and was named to lead the Boks against Argentina at Kings Park on August 8, having sat out the tests against Australia and New Zealand.
The Argentina match turned into a miserable occasion, as not only did the Boks suffer their first-ever defeat to Los Pumas, but De Villiers had his jaw broken.
Many wrote the epitaph for one of only five Springbok centurions, but once more, he refused to give in.
Backed by coach Heyneke Meyer, who often stated his belief in De Villiers’ leadership qualities, De Villiers willed his jaw to heal and, when South Africa played Japan in their ill-fated opening match in Brighton a fortnight ago, he was able to see out the game.
However, disaster struck last Saturday against Samoa, as De Villiers suffered another jawbone fracture that spelt the end of his test career.
Many have questioned whether it was a reckless gamble for him to have returned and whether yet another serious injury was inevitable.
The corporate affairs general manager at the SA Rugby Union (Saru), Andy Colquhoun, said there was “no captain’s contract and that contracted Boks weren’t up for compulsory selection” anyway.
He supplied City Press with the list of contracted Boks.
Johannesburg-based sports physician and member of World Rugby’s advisory panel on concussion Dr Jon Patricios said there were no clear-cut answers on De Villiers’ selection.
“I’ve got a gut opinion like anybody else, but it may be misinformed because I’m not privy to all the details,” he said. “I haven’t seen him, examined his jaw, examined his knee, looked at the X-rays and scans, etc.”
He pointed out: “The objective criteria would involve the examination by the doctor who’s managed him or the medical team that’s managed him.
“Then the other objective data would be your fitness assessment – sprint test, bench press, endurance test at September 2015 – and compare that to where they were in September 2014 when he was at peak fitness. You would be able to make a call by way of comparison.
“Then there are the subjective measures: How he feels about it and obviously the coach as well.”
He emphasised that medical care at the Springbok level was “world class.”
“Jean unfortunately has been on a slippery slope for some time, but it’s impossible for me or anybody else who is not privy to that information to comment.”
Dr Patricios said the length of De Villiers’ career (13 years) was not a real factor.
“It depends on the type of player he is; the position he’s played; the severity of his injuries; how early he came into the game; when the injuries started; what types of injuries they were; the duration of injuries.
“What I will say is that we are seeing the lifespan of professional rugby players significantly reduced. We don’t see many playing until their middle or late thirties at a high level.
“The exposure to high-level rugby is taking its toll, but I can’t say that, at 32, 34 or 36, a guy must hang up his boots – you have to take each situation on its merits.”
Dr Patricios emphasised that his remarks should not be construed as being critical of De Villiers.