Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – It is unlikely to have totally avoided
the notice of the Springboks that their World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham
on Saturday will also be the first time they have played Wales since the
horrendous, multi-pronged leg injury to their long-time captain Jean de
At a cruelly late stage of the
season-ending European tour fixture at the Millennium Stadium in 2014, when the
Welsh earned only their second victory ever over the Boks, the veteran centre
crumpled backwards screaming in hideous pain at a breakdown, another anterior
cruciate ligament tear being just one of the mishaps experienced in the
But that occurrence also served as almost
immediate starting point of one of the most grimly-devoted rehabilitation
quests, against the clock, for De Villiers to try to make the cut for RWC – a
tournament that has traditionally offered him lamentably little in the way of
It is history now that the tenacious
character, having defied the odds to be there, was just starting to demonstrate
true signs of his artistry and acumen of old against Samoa at Villa Park when a
freak collision (again at an advanced stage of the game) with Tim
Nanai-Williams suddenly put paid to his often auspicious Test career.
The ever-upbeat and good-humoured De
Villiers is back in the squad’s midst for the critical advanced stages of the
tournament, and by all accounts a popular presence in an advisory and
If I were a betting man, I’d be staking a
bit of dosh on coach Heyneke Meyer adding to the motivation levels among his charges
by urging them to “keep the dream alive” against Wales partly as a tribute to
the man he placed such staunch leadership faith in from 2012 onward.
But it is not solely about De Villiers, of
Other seasoned figures in the Bok ranks – ones
still in playing mode – similarly deserve a huge collective effort on Saturday
not to be swiftly, brutally eliminated from RWC 2015 at a stage they all know
will hardly be considered acceptable to South Africa’s demanding support base.
As I wrote on Wednesday, there is the
considerable risk now that 38-year-old Victor Matfield may have ended his
lengthy, record-breaking international career on 125 caps, given his continued
sidelining from the match-day 23 by a hamstring problem.
It is far more fitting for players to
officially bow out on the field of combat itself, thus earning them the
undoubted pleasure of a rousing send-off from appreciative rugby spectators and
mass television audiences.
For the big second-rower to have the
possibility of that experience, the Boks will need to move onward to the semis,
which also automatically confirm onward passage to a playoff fixture for third
place contested by the two losing sides at that phase.
And then there’s a certain Schalk Burger:
like Matfield, this is his fourth and almost undoubtedly final World Cup at the
age of 32 and he has been a legendarily up-and-at-‘em character in green and
gold for some 13 years.
Burger at least has the opportunity to
influence the outcome of this particular knockout clash, given his rightful
presence among the starting XV.
It was not long ago at all, when you think
about it, that this heart-and-soul campaigner (if he were a soldier, he’d be
like one who stood on three landmines but somehow survived to tell captivating
tales) came desperately close to death in a freak, high medical drama.
He also had to undertake his own comeback
from being as weak as the proverbial kitten physically and beginning it with
uncharacteristically painstaking, “doc’s orders” requirements like gentle
rambles in Newlands Forest.
Yet here is Burger, alive, kicking ... and
three games from a repeat of 2007 RWC heroics.
Further Springboks are likely to be bidding
farewell to World Cup activity, at the very least, whenever the team does bow
out of the current one.
Their ranks include acting skipper Fourie
du Preez, that quiet fellow of huge rugby gravitas, as well as the France-bound
Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, and Bryan Habana, although the still
razor-sharp wing might not retire until some time after he has eclipsed
Matfield’s caps mark.
The end of an era is very, very near.
The Boks, every man jack of them, will go
to peculiar lengths to stretch out the experience to a level of high – or even
ultimate -- honour.
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing