Cape Town – Jean de Villiers has been a commendably team-conscious,
accommodating sort of rugby player over the years ... now I believe the time
has come for his own preferences to be accommodated in a more pronounced way.
Aged 32 and having put in masses of hard yards for both
“club” – Stormers/Western Province – and country, the Springbok captain
deserves no less, as planning steps up a notch for the 2013 Test season.
Eternally flexible, De Villiers will willingly pull a wing’s
jersey (albeit less likely nowadays as the march of time gently, inevitably
erodes his pace) over his head or occupy the less familiar midfield slot of
GALLERY: Springbok training session
But it is at No 12, not far from the right shoulder and
handily within strategic earshot of the all-important flyhalf, where the
Paarl-born competitor has traditionally been stationed the most and where he
will quietly acknowledge, I have no doubt, he is also happiest and most
A surprisingly well-subscribed school of enthusiasts in
South Africa appears pretty keen to pension off De Villiers, ill-advisedly
making him a scapegoat of sorts for conservatism or inertia in backline play to
varying degrees at both Bok and Stormers level.
It is unjustified: he has oodles of wisdom, still possesses
keen anticipation and rare awareness, remains a physical presence (at 1.90m and
103kg) in a channel where those dimensions come in increasingly handy, and I
may ruffle further feathers by adding confidently that he and X-factor are
ongoing, harmonious bedfellows.
De Villiers has been tireless, committed and highly
efficient on a personal level despite an unusually wobbly old start to this Super
Rugby season by his franchise.
In short, if the Stormers have been found wanting in various
respects during a tough seven-match stretch that includes four defeats, such
shortcomings shouldn’t be laid at his door.
If available, re-run some of their matches on your PVR if
you want proof of that. Show me his rank failings or obvious signs of waning
powers and I will show you a six-legged dog.
This was supposed to be a Super Rugby campaign where the “treadmill”
burden on the veteran would be eased a tad: the Stormers began it boasting an
unusual amount of depth in most areas, and it is probably also safe to say De
Villiers would not have been too nose-out-of-joint by Allister Coetzee’s summer
decision to reinstate a seemingly fast-recovering Schalk Burger – the incumbent,
to all intents and purposes – as skipper.
With national coach
Heyneke Meyer rightly issuing deafening signals that De Villiers would remain
his Test captain of choice for 2013, De Villiers slotting comfortably back into
a less taxing, second-in-command duty at Super Rugby seemed a sensible course
But then Burger’s comeback went onto worrisome, lingering hold:
enter, as for the lion’s share of the 2012 competition, De Villiers as
seamless, gratefully-banked stand-in.
In addition, the Stormers were quickly plagued anew by an
epidemic of injuries, which meant De Villiers, at least for a while, was
shunted out to No 13 as rookie Damian de Allande – less adaptable – replaced
Juan de Jongh for some matches and had to be fielded in the inside berth.
The situation has also meant that the seasoned campaigner
has probably played more full games thus far than he, his Stormers coaches and
indeed Meyer really wish, so if De Villiers ever looks just a little off his
sprightly best, some allowance should be made for unavoidable, periodic
As always, the player simply soldiers on, uncomplainingly.
What’s more, since De Jongh’s return De Villiers has been a
key orchestrator of a welcome, more fluid approach by the Cape team to backline
play and certainly been personally influential in his sometimes Bok partner experiencing
a hot little streak in the try-scoring column.
Although his detractors might have conveniently opted to
ignore it, the deftness and timing of the senior pro’s short pass to De Jongh,
enabling him to slash through the Sharks defence en route to a
result-influencing touchdown at Newlands on Saturday, should not be
It carried all the set-up hallmarks of a class act at No 12
and the Sharks, in particular, have often fallen prey to his wiles.
De Villiers has largely been on his defensive toes this
season, too: whenever he has “come off”
his line, which can obviously carry associated risks, he has usually nailed his
man, nipping a threatening hand-to-hand move firmly in the bud.
Being legendarily switched on to interception possibilities
must also make opposition backlines reluctant to become too expansive whenever
De Villiers is on the prowl.
At the outset of the Bok programme last year, the then-novice
international captain had the additional chore of grappling with outside centre
responsibilities, because Frans Steyn was deemed most worthy candidate then for
the No 12 role.
The big change this year is that Steyn has experienced a
near-violent dip in form and lustre, to such an extent that under current
circumstances he simply does not justify a start for the Springboks, anywhere
on the park.
My recommendation for the Bok midfield berths against Italy
at Kings Park on June 8 would be De Villiers in his favoured role, with one of
De Jongh or the Cheetahs’ Robert Ebersohn playing off him at 13.
Remember that although the last-named player has been
excelling at No 12 for the Bloemfontein outfit this season, he is still more
accustomed, in first-class terms, to being in the “further out” channel, and De
Villiers’s superior stats on the scales and in centimetres make him better
suited to being closer to rugby’s hotter spots.
Jan Serfontein? He is just finding his feet in Super Rugby,
though many pundits wouldn’t object at all if he soaked in some tutelage from
De Villiers and perhaps even got 10 or 20 minutes here and there in Tests
during 2013 to enable De Villiers not to succumb too heavily to personal over-exposure.
Amidst a battery of questions on other elements of Bok
planning, when Meyer gave his first collective media briefing at the mini-camp
in this city on Monday, De Villiers’s name did not come up to any significant
degree, if memory serves me correctly.
But the coach did chat candidly and informally with several
journalists as he walked off the pitch at Westerford High School, and let’s just
say that Sport24 can provide a firm assurance that people who matter are more
than happy with De Villiers’s game and leadership right now.
Jean de Villiers is Springbok captain because he has more
than earned his stripes for it and does the job assuredly, both between the
lines – where by all accounts his guidance is unanimously respected – and when
faced by microphones and cameras.
Plain and simple.
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