Cape Town – There must be an increasing likelihood that when
(the pessimistic view would be “if”) Jean de Villiers resumes his illustrious
Springbok career as both captain and player later this year, it will be back in
his slightly less familiar No 13 jersey.
Should that be deemed the slot best suited to him – he is
fighting to be fit for the World Cup in the UK from September – it would be a
repeat of the role he played in all of his first seven Tests as full-time
skipper in 2012.
De Villiers’s plucky comeback from his sickening knee injury
against Wales late last year comes under potentially intriguing media glare on
Thursday (SuperSport 1, 19:30) when a half-hour documentary from Shoestring
Productions and Citadel titled “Jean de Villiers: The Road to Recovery Part 1”
Although he has spent easily the lion’s share of his career
at both first-class and Test level at inside centre, coach Heyneke Meyer, who
began his own tenure in charge in 2012, confidently employed De Villiers at
first in the outside role.
The now 34-year-old was partnered six times then with Frans
Steyn as his No 12 and once with Wynand Olivier (these days with Montpellier in
France), in a trio of home Tests against England and then the first few
assignments in the Rugby Championship.
De Villiers, who operated at thirteen with comfort and some
aplomb, only switched back to the inside channel for the two closing
Championship matches against Australia (Pretoria) and New Zealand
(Johannesburg) when then-Lions utility back Jaco Taute had two matches
He has mostly been re-settled at No 12 ever since then, and
last year Meyer gave a generous run in alliance with De Villiers to Bulls
midfielder Jan Serfontein, officially stationed at outside centre even if they
sometimes swapped roles according to situational requirements.
It has not been considered the most perfect of positional
marriages by critics, as Serfontein struggled to make a genuine impression and
was even below his best back at his favourite No 12 for the Bulls in Super
Rugby before his injury a few weeks ago.
What has become fairly clear is that De Villiers -- assuming
he does “rehab” from his latest cruciate ligament setback in enough time to be
confidently restored to World Cup leadership -- remains the most adaptable of
all South African midfielders across the two berths.
This versatility may be something usefully in his favour --
if his amassing of 106 Bok caps isn’t thought to be enough evidence of his
enduring quality – as Super Rugby 2015 has thrown up a significantly better
crop of SA-based No 12s than 13s so far.
Some of the most exciting, and relatively youthful
midfielders on display have been inside centres, if you consider such names as
Damian de Allende of the Stormers, the Bulls’ Burger Odendaal and Harold
Vorster of the Lions.
There has generally been less of a “wow” factor from our
various outside centres, whilst the form of De Allende, in particular, has been
such that he seems a virtual must-pick at No 12 if a Bok side suddenly rumbled
into action this weekend.
The sturdily-built 23-year-old has beautifully combined
strength with subtlety for his franchise, earning rave reviews across the
SANZAR spectrum and featuring heavily in several of the Super Rugby attacking
stats columns up to the midway stage of ordinary season.
De Allende is top of the pops for defenders beaten (38), rides
fourth in the clean breaks department (12) and joint-10th for
Throw in his defensive stoutness and a complete package
takes promising shape, doesn’t it?
Ironically, in his only two Test starts thus far, in 2014,
De Allende was also asked to operate in relatively virgin territory at No 13,
with De Villiers in the inside spot in the two narrowly clawed-out Championship
Tests against Argentina in Pretoria and Salta respectively.
Conditions (on a rain-lashed Highveld) and circumstance (the
Pumas’ famously brutal scrum dominance in their home tussle) conspired to give
De Allende little scope to demonstrate his attacking abilities then, but this
season’s evidence only seems to remind anyway that he is wasted anywhere but at
So don’t write off the possibility of the Stormers’ emerging
maestro nailing down the inside channel as his own during the Boks’ pre-RWC
Test obligations this year, with franchise-mate De Villiers then slotting into
No 13 at the premier tournament if his recovery has been successfully
The Bok skipper, at his advanced age, is no torpedo for
outright pace in that capacity ... but then neither is the All Blacks’
similarly cerebral, celebrated 33-year-old Conrad Smith in the position.
De Villiers will probably still possess, nevertheless, the
required deception, awareness and power to be able to slip through gaps, as
well as help set up last-pass opportunities to a flying wing, say, on his
Injuries will also never be able to strip him of his renowned
ability to shrewdly read opposition attacking intentions even as they are in
their formative stages of execution.
De Allende and De Villiers the Springbok midfield combo at
the World Cup?
I wouldn’t be prepared to bet too much money against it,
myself, even as the Bok captain continues his ambitious quest to earn a passage
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