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Heyneke: Why I backed Jean

2015-09-23 14:35
Jean de Villiers

Cape Town - Jean de Villiers' place in the Springbok Rugby World Cup squad was a topic of debate months before Heyneke Meyer announced his 31-man squad to battle at the 2015 showpiece. 

Would his knee heal in time? If it did, would he have enough game time under the belt to warrant selection? Would he still be good enough? 

A jaw injury in De Villiers' build-up to the World Cup threw another spanner into the works, and when he was named Bok captain for the tournament there were perhaps more questions than answers. 

Those questions reached their peak after the Boks' shocking loss to Japan, and there were renewed calls for Meyer to back the Damian de Allende/Jesse Kriel partnership in midfield. 

But Meyer has kept faith in De Villiers one more time - picking him in the starting line-up for Saturday's crucial clash against Samoa while De Allende comes into the side and Kriel drops to the bench.

"It’s one of the most difficult decisions in my life to make. You’re almost in a lose-lose situation because if you don’t pick your captain and you lose they’ll say you should have picked your captain," Meyer said.

"I had a long chat with Jean and he just wants to serve South Africa. He said it doesn’t matter, if he’s not in the team that’s fine, he’ll come from the bench or whatever it takes."

Meyer said the character that De Villiers had shown throughout his career - since his debut against France in 2002 in which he tore his knee ligaments - had also been a deciding factor in backing his captain.

"I just decided that if you go into a fight that you have to win … that your whole career and the whole country depends on … that I really want to take a guy that’s had six knee operations, that had a knee operation and a knee injury in his first game for South Africa," Meyer said.

"People said he would never play again. He came back and played 100 games.

"Just before the World Cup we had an 80% win record with him as captain. He got injured again. Even the specialist said he won’t play again and he came back, proved them all wrong and then broke his jaw. And again people said he won’t be here and he’s here.

"I’d rather go with a guy like that into a fight that we have to win because I know he wants to play for South Africa."

Whether or not Meyer's decision is the right one remains to be seen. That will only be answered after the tournament, at which point it will be easy to look back and point fingers. 

For now, though, the coach is certain that he has made the right call. 

"If we as South Africans maybe back each other more, South Africa will be a much better place with maybe less hate and less violence and more love," he said.

"So I’m going to go with my captain. I’ve got total confidence in him. The team backs him."

Saturday's match kicks off at 17:45.


South Africa

15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Adriaan Strauss, 1 Beast Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Ruan Pienaar, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Jesse Kriel



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