Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Springbok captain Jean de Villiers’ sudden departure from the Bok camp has left coach Heyneke Meyer in a bit of a quandary about who to make his next captain.
According to the supersport.com website, De Villiers was the easy choice for Meyer but was already under pressure from Damian de Allende for his starting spot and his departure has perhaps made the midfield decision a bit easier for the Boks in terms of selection.
Still, the experience lost by losing a 109-test veteran will not be made up easily and the Boks have shown more than once this season what a lack of experience can mean in their losses in the Castle Lager Rugby Championship.
Normally the obvious candidate would be Victor Matfield, who has captained the side already this year and is a long-term favourite of Meyer. But a hamstring strain and cancelled practice sessions have thrown this one into doubt.
There was an unusual amount of fawning between coach and captain at Saturday’s post-match press conference after the big win over Samoa, with Matfield saying he would “walk through fire” for Meyer, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he is named captain after all.
But a hamstring injury is a strange thing, even the medical staff aren’t always sure how long a twinge can keep a player out, and it is still unclear just where the Bok injury list stops being worrysome and starts just being the normal niggles that players carry out through a season.
What is clear is that there are a number of players still carrying bumps and bruises after the Samoan outing, so much so that the team decided Monday should rather be spent in the gym than on the training field.
This has compounded things for Meyer as well, as the first field session will now only be on Tuesday afternoon and this means the assessment of those injured will only take place then as well. While initial news is that the Boks are only really worried about Damian de Allende’s knee strain and Willem Alberts’ calf, Matfield’s hamstring could throw the situation into a totally new light.
If the Bok lock is also ruled out by the hamstring, it would leave Meyer the choice of one of his three loose forwards to captain the side, with Schalk Burger doing the job recently against New Zealand while Francois Louw (Bath) and Duane Vermeulen (Stormers) have both done a good job for their club or provincial sides in the past.
Adriaan Strauss is another candidate for the position, but selection may influence this with Bismarck du Plessis set for a return to the side after missing out on facing Samoa and Fourie du Preez can also captain, but is struggling with a rib injury after the weekend, and has not shown too much interest in captaining the side before.
Matfield’s situation leaves another poser for Meyer as appointing the veteran would leave Lood de Jager almost permanently on the bench, with the young lock in the form of his life and pressing for a permanent starting role in the side.
Meyer has always said the best side will head into the playoffs, but that changed with the shock loss against Japan a fortnight ago, and now the Boks need to beat Scotland this weekend to make sure they qualify in their group for the next phase of the competition.
After this weekend’s outing there is a four-day turnaround before they face the USA and the Boks will need to field a fresh and fit team in London if they are to head into the playoffs unscathed.
Which all makes the decision on the captaincy such a vital one for the coach, with Matfield the front runner, but a host of other players without competition in their positions offering a different option for the coach.
He will need the wisdom of Solomon to navigate these waters clearly.