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
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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
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
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