Rugby Championship

Boks to have leadership ‘group’?

2015-08-02 11:17
Jean de Villiers (Gallo Images)
Cape Town – The Springboks ought to have much better clarity over Jean de Villiers’ suitability to the rigours of RWC 2015 after the next two matches against Argentina.

Unless anything has changed in his delicately-managed comeback programme from long-term serious injury, he is supposedly earmarked for at least some role in the Bok match-day mix when they play the Pumas in Durban next Saturday and then Buenos Aires (non-Rugby Championship Test) a week beyond that.

Not that appearances in either match will necessarily clear the fog entirely. A bit like he has apparently been more workmanlike than notably devastating – and understandably so – in pre-Currie Cup outings for Western Province, it is possible De Villiers will again tick the mere game-time box successfully rather than dazzle against the Argentineans as his progress continues at a patient pace.

It is quite likely that simply “doing enough” will be regarded by coach Heyneke Meyer as a further step in the right direction ... and De Villiers will then duly be installed as captain for the World Cup squad, announced at the end of August.

There can be little doubt that the expected scenario – Meyer is very faithful to his long-time preferred leader and it is hard to see that changing so close to RWC after De Villiers’ gutsy fightback crusade – will ruffle some feathers among fans and critics.

That will be not least because of the rightful fears over the Boks having to disturb the blossoming midfield alliance between Damian de Allende and Jesse Kriel in order to accommodate the massively experienced 34-year-old.

Yet the demands of a World Cup are rather different to those of an unusually low-key, experiment-laden Rugby Championship and sound judges will not be slow to acknowledge that Meyer doesn’t necessarily want to or have to employ both rookies as his first-choice combo at the planet’s premier tournament.

For all the fine strides made by these and other young guns over the past few weeks, seasoned characters remain absolutely essential squad elements whenever RWC comes around – whether as starters for particular challenges or very handy substitutes to infuse for calming purposes when a pressure game needs closing out.

The Boks lie nought-from-two in the Championship partly for the very reason that plenty of their current, callow crop of starting players are simply not used to winning frequently against premier-tier foes – we saw evidence of that against both the Wallabies and All Blacks recently when certain flaws still stalked some of the personnel who otherwise shone in games South Africa so nearly did enough to bag.

Yes, De Villiers looks a risk as things stand ... but then so, for different reasons, is the De Allende-Kriel midfield pairing, given the mere handful of Test caps spread between the two. They look like the future -- the more immediate, toughest of all rugby events may bring slightly different requirements.

So the blond veteran may very well prove to be a perfect, balancing presence at centre in the World Cup and the fact that he can operate comfortably in either a No 12 or 13 capacity means doors hardly slam brutally shut on either De Allende or Kriel (or others) for tournament contributions.

Also to consider is that De Allende can cover wing; he has played there with some success at Super Rugby level. And speaking of that competition, let’s not forget that for metres gained in the 2015 event, Bulls dynamo Kriel was statistically second only to Israel Folau among fullbacks – he certainly offers possibilities if need be in the last line of defence for the Boks.

It is also all too easy to recklessly brand a particular player a “has been”, simply because of his age on paper and the fact that – as in De Villiers’ case – he has been out of the top-flight fray for a considerable time.

Class is permanent, and for the vast majority of his tenure as Bok leader since Meyer accepted the coaching reins in 2012, De Villiers was a wily and assured presence in the team and well respected by those under his command.

He may not possess the pace of old, and maybe that has been comprised a bit further, but he is still capable of facilitating others playing constructively off him, and massively able to gauge the mood and tempo of matches.

He has also excelled in the diplomacy/public relations area and that is not an unimportant consideration for a World Cup, where being able to charm the unforgiving British media in particular onto your side is no bad step.

I would be extremely comfortable, personally, with De Villiers as our “squad captain” in the United Kingdom -- even if match-day, start-out team leader need not necessarily be cast in stone every time.

The Boks are blessed with a strong leadership group, after all ... to the extent that the tournament skipper is not necessarily the be-all and end-all of their templates and goals.

Victor Matfield is a Super Rugby/Currie Cup and sometimes Test captain of huge longevity, former Stormers first-choice leader Schalk Burger demonstrated against the All Blacks in Johannesburg that holding the reins has no impact whatsoever on his tremendous own work ethic and class, and people like Duane Vermeulen and Fourie du Preez are natural leaders of men too.

The Boks’ way of doing things - now in Meyer’s fourth year as head coach - would not suddenly go violently out of kilter with any of these figures in charge.

Besides, if the Boks make smooth headway, as they should, through the pool phase, they are likely to rotate their selections to a degree, and that might apply as much to captaincy.

But just by being around, Jean de Villiers offers so much to the Boks.

Captain at the World Cup? I don’t see a problem, whether he is on the actual field of combat or immediately alongside it as a canny, potentially attractive substitute whose leadership will come forcefully into play at the business end of tight clashes.

After all, that last half hour or so is precisely where the Boks have tended to turn headless chicken of late ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


Read more on:    springboks  |  rugby championship  |  rwc 2015  |  rugby


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