Springboks

Jean faces demanding chore

2012-06-04 14:16
Jean de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town – Despite the obvious aura that surrounds the job, Jean de Villiers having been fittingly named on Monday as Springbok captain against England may be less than half of the personal challenge facing the popular centre.

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Certainly the 31-year-old veteran of 72 Tests is highly unlikely to be over-awed by the responsibility, especially as he has handled the Stormers’ leadership reins very naturally and inspiringly since being handed them during round one of Super Rugby 2012 as Schalk Burger quickly succumbed to a long-term injury against the Hurricanes on February 25.

He is a notably committed and proud competitor at all first-class levels, something not always apparent as his off-field character generally fits into the stereotypical Cape phenomenon of rugby players who are chilled and slipslop-wearing when not engaged between the white lines.

Nor does De Villiers come across as some kind of robotic “yes man”: he has an affable and confident manner in dealing with the media – this ought to go down quite well with the eternally large and influential visiting English press scrum over the next few weeks – but also doesn’t just mutter platitudes or clichés by the dozen.

During the Super Rugby season, he has sometimes forcefully and, you suspect, more than a tad irritably defended his franchise against allegations at media briefings that their attacking play fails to generate a genuine thrill factor, pointing to “winning ways” as being paramount: something hard to argue when you examine the Stormers’ continually high-riding status.

On that score, his philosophy is likely to have found firm common ground with Bok coach Heyneke Meyer, who does not seem in the least bit ready to chuck the ball around willy-nilly; core South African values in recent times are almost certain to hold sway in his early tenure, regardless of how many people frown upon them.

At a time of unexpectedly rapid public criticism for Meyer, thanks to his Bulls-leaning squad selection on Saturday, installing De Villiers as skipper will go at least some way to subduing the dissent mostly emanating from the “great south” in this diverse country.

For all the eleventh-hour curveball around Fourie du Preez’s availability to the cause, after he had seemed the likeliest choice for captain, it must be pointed out that the coach very spiritedly and specifically sang the praises of Paarl-born De Villiers shortly after he had his “Stormers session” a few weeks back, so it is not as though Meyer is likely to be thinking he has had to settle for sloppy seconds.

So yes, the blond midfielder should be a smooth fit, and Meyer is to be commended for his choice.

Perhaps a couple of bigger hurdles than his suitability to lead the troops now face De Villiers, however.

One is that it seems he is earmarked position-wise for the outside centre berth, a location not nearly as familiar to him as No 12, and he will have to make the necessary tactical and other adjustments with some stealth.

Another is that centre is a fair way from the main cauldron of Test activity – the battle in the boiler room – and if De Villiers is at thirteen he will be even further removed than he might like to be, in terms of ability to scream rapid-fire instructions like a banshee above the stadium din.

For the record, the last time a backline player captained South Africa was in 1999, when Joost van der Westhuizen temporarily had command, although at least as a scrumhalf he was considerably closer to the real heat.

The last time someone led South Africa from a spot deeper on the park than flyhalf, incidentally, was in 1956 when versatile Basie Vivier briefly did the job from fullback.

Something else to chew on is just how physically equipped De Villiers will be after a couple of frighteningly energy-sapping Super Rugby derbies against the Sharks and Bulls respectively in the immediate Bok lead-up.

Each time, the Stormers have mostly been the back-foot side, with all the defensive stress and weariness that situation induces.

De Villiers personally put in a yeoman performance in the Stormers’ amazing pilfer of the Loftus game – and that after being confined to bed with influenza for much of the week preceding it.

What sort of bodily state is he in right now, I wonder?

 Be all that as it may, Jean de Villiers, especially when you consider the World Cup injury jinx that has stuck to him like an infuriating limpet since 2003, richly deserves this prestigious break which should bring energising qualities through its very occurrence.

Doesn’t he?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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