Fourie du Preez (Gallo Images)
Newcastle - Fourie du Preez faces a tough
task hauling the Springboks into the Rugby World Cup knockout rounds after they
suffered the biggest shock in the tournament's history and lost their captain.
The 33-year-old widely considered one of
the best scrumhalves in the world says only that he will "lead from the
front." But that is just what a lot of South Africans want right now.
The country still cannot get over seeing
their beloved rugby idols beaten 34-32 in their opening World Cup match against
And the thumping 46-6 Pool B win over Samoa
may have reassured them. But the decision of captain Jean de Villiers to quit
after suffering a second broken jaw in six weeks came as a new blow.
South Africa go into their third game
against Scotland on Saturday still not certain of qualification and Du Preez
has a big job on his hands.
Without de Villiers and injured vice-captain
Victor Matfield, Du Preez has lost 200 caps and must galvanize a youthful side
at St James Park.
"I'm not one for many words so I'll
lead from the front on Saturday," Du Preez said of his captaincy style.
"Luckily we have guys such as Schalk
Burger and Duane Vermeulen to back me up, as well as a lot of experience across
"I'm really grateful for this
"A few months ago I thought my rugby
career was over, and a few weeks ago I didn't think I was even going to be here
in England today. But life sometimes takes funny turns so to sit here as
captain is unbelievable for me."
Highly regarded as a tactician, Du Preez
the "rugby brain" is one of the last remaining members of a golden
era of Springboks that won the World Cup in 2007, beat the British and Irish
Lions in 2009 and scored a 3-0 series win against the All Blacks in 2010.
While the praise often goes to the more
flamboyant team-mates like Matfield or Bryan Habana, Du Preez has been the
bedrock of Springbok sides of the last decade. Current coach Heyneke Meyer has
built his entire campaign around the player he regards as "the best in the
Meyer plucked Du Preez out of the junior
ranks and gave him his first start in South Africa's Currie Cup competition
when he was just 19.
A Junior World Cup winner a year later, he
was invited to the Springbok trials in 2003, but failed to make the final
Du Preez was mentored by another great in Joost van der Westhuizen and
started to become a vital part of the Blue Bulls Currie Cup hat-trick between
2002 and 2004.
He had to wait to become a dominant part of
the Springboks though.
He was not a first choice pick in 2006, but
returned in 2007 to be the unsung hero in the Springboks World Cup win. He
grabbed a man of the match award in the 36-0 demolition of England and starred
in the campaign that led to the trophy at Stade de France a few weeks later.
Du Preez was Bulls captain when they
defended their first Super Rugby title in 2008. But he struggled and the team
He returned in 2009 in scintillating form,
however. The Bulls won their second southern hemisphere title, South Africa
beat the British and Irish Lions and claimed a Tri-Nations title.
A year later, the Boks whitewashed the All
Blacks 3-0 in their Tri Nations campaign.
But a shoulder injury curbed his ambitions
in 2011 in a disappointing World Cup in New Zealand. He retired from
international rugby and headed to Japan to play for Suntory Sungoliath.
Meyer coaxed Du Preez back into Springboks
action in 2013 but a knee injury sidelined him again in 2014 and almost stopped
him going to this World Cup.
After being selected in August, Du Preez
shocked many with his candid answer that he might not make it. Medical staff
had cleared him, but in his own mind he was not 100 percent.
Brutally honest at times, always expecting
a high standard, the Du Preez style will not be extravagant. A no-nonsense
thinker on the field, he is his own biggest critic. He expects nothing less
than the best from himself and his team-mates.
Meyer's choice should be seen in the
context of their 12 year history. According to Meyer, Du Preez
"understands what I want, he knows how I think."
The coach has preached a game plan true to
South African strengths: a strong set piece, a dominant forward pack with a
halfback running the show.
Du Preez the stickler for detail is
precisely the man to run that show for Meyer.
As it is his last World Cup, Du Preez has
set his eyes on leading the Springboks to glory and will lead from the front.
If the players follow, it will be hard to stop them.