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De Villiers' World Cup curse

2015-09-27 15:23
Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)

London - Jean de Villiers once dryly remarked he had been to two World Cups and spent only two nights in the team hotel such has been his ill fortune with injuries at the rugby showpiece.

The 34-year-old dashing South African centre managed a few more nights this time, but on Sunday his third and final World Cup campaign came to an end with a fractured jaw suffered in the Pool B game against Samoa.

This could mean the end of his international career.

"Jean is not only our captain and one of the most experienced players in the squad, but he is also the glue of this team and to lose him is very sad," said coach Heyneke Meyer.

His fate and that of Meyer's were indelibly linked, especially after Japan inflicted the greatest upset in World Cup history a 34-32 victory last week.

As usual De Villiers, just as he did on the 109 occasions he donned the green Springbok jersey, did not shirk his part in the traumatic defeat.

"We are a very proud nation. What saddens me is to see how a loss like this can break the country apart," he said on the eve of the Samoa game.

"Rugby is a game, but in South Africa it has become so much more than just a game and we carry that responsibility with us every single time we enter the field," added De Villiers, whose appearance at the World Cup was a little miracle because of his repeat injuries.

He had feared he would never walk again after a serious knee injury suffered in November last year. Having recovered from that he broke his jaw a first time in August.

The father of three children, who married his university sweetheart Marlie, can look back on a career that brought him recognition as one of the finest centres in the world and 27 Test tries.

However the World Cup cupboard - in which most great players would wish to leave a mark - is bare thanks to a rotten timing of injuries.

De Villiers - whose Test debut in 2002 lasted just seven minutes before suffering a serious knee injury - missed the 2003 edition because of a shoulder injury, and the most bitter of all a biceps injury in the first pool game of the 2007 tournament resulted in him missing the victory in the final although he stayed with the squad and received a medal at the ceremony.

"It was a very empty feeling," he told the Guardian last year.

"I'm fortunate to have a World Cup winners' medal but I don't think I deserved it. I was very happy for the team and my friends but I was empty inside.

"I never look at the medal now."

In 2011 he injured a rib in the opening game and only returned for the final pool match before playing in the losing quarter-final to Australia.

Out of the wreckage of his own World Cup experiences, De Villiers will have to make do with the one World Cup memory he and the whole of the nation treasures.

The emotional win at home over favourites New Zealand in 1995, principally because of the image of post-apartheid president Nelson Mandela handing the trophy to white captain Francois Pienaar in a sport seen as the last preserve of the white minority.

"I was only 14-years-old when we won the World Cup and I would never forget the image of Madiba (Mandela) walking out at Ellis Park with his Springbok jersey on with the No 6 on the back," he said in 2013 following Mandela's death.

"And then the image of Francois actually holding the World Cup at the end, with Madiba standing in the background waving his cap and dancing. He was such a joyful person.

Sadly for De Villiers with his lucky charm gone Saturday brought him the stark realisation the World Cup gods would never smile on him.

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