Jean warrants Bok No 12 berth

2013-04-16 14:07
Jean de Villiers (Gallo)
Cape Town – Jean de Villiers has been a commendably team-conscious, accommodating sort of rugby player over the years ... now I believe the time has come for his own preferences to be accommodated in a more pronounced way.

Aged 32 and having put in masses of hard yards for both “club” – Stormers/Western Province – and country, the Springbok captain deserves no less, as planning steps up a notch for the 2013 Test season.

Eternally flexible, De Villiers will willingly pull a wing’s jersey (albeit less likely nowadays as the march of time gently, inevitably erodes his pace) over his head or occupy the less familiar midfield slot of outside centre.

GALLERY: Springbok training session

But it is at No 12, not far from the right shoulder and handily within strategic earshot of the all-important flyhalf, where the Paarl-born competitor has traditionally been stationed the most and where he will quietly acknowledge, I have no doubt, he is also happiest and most influential.

A surprisingly well-subscribed school of enthusiasts in South Africa appears pretty keen to pension off De Villiers, ill-advisedly making him a scapegoat of sorts for conservatism or inertia in backline play to varying degrees at both Bok and Stormers level.

It is unjustified: he has oodles of wisdom, still possesses keen anticipation and rare awareness, remains a physical presence (at 1.90m and 103kg) in a channel where those dimensions come in increasingly handy, and I may ruffle further feathers by adding confidently that he and X-factor are ongoing, harmonious bedfellows.

De Villiers has been tireless, committed and highly efficient on a personal level despite an unusually wobbly old start to this Super Rugby season by his franchise.

In short, if the Stormers have been found wanting in various respects during a tough seven-match stretch that includes four defeats, such shortcomings shouldn’t be laid at his door.

If available, re-run some of their matches on your PVR if you want proof of that. Show me his rank failings or obvious signs of waning powers and I will show you a six-legged dog.

This was supposed to be a Super Rugby campaign where the “treadmill” burden on the veteran would be eased a tad: the Stormers began it boasting an unusual amount of depth in most areas, and it is probably also safe to say De Villiers would not have been too nose-out-of-joint by Allister Coetzee’s summer decision to reinstate a seemingly fast-recovering Schalk Burger – the incumbent, to all intents and purposes – as skipper.

 With national coach Heyneke Meyer rightly issuing deafening signals that De Villiers would remain his Test captain of choice for 2013, De Villiers slotting comfortably back into a less taxing, second-in-command duty at Super Rugby seemed a sensible course of action.

But then Burger’s comeback went onto worrisome, lingering hold: enter, as for the lion’s share of the 2012 competition, De Villiers as seamless, gratefully-banked stand-in.

In addition, the Stormers were quickly plagued anew by an epidemic of injuries, which meant De Villiers, at least for a while, was shunted out to No 13 as rookie Damian de Allande – less adaptable – replaced Juan de Jongh for some matches and had to be fielded in the inside berth.

The situation has also meant that the seasoned campaigner has probably played more full games thus far than he, his Stormers coaches and indeed Meyer really wish, so if De Villiers ever looks just a little off his sprightly best, some allowance should be made for unavoidable, periodic staleness.

As always, the player simply soldiers on, uncomplainingly.

What’s more, since De Jongh’s return De Villiers has been a key orchestrator of a welcome, more fluid approach by the Cape team to backline play and certainly been personally influential in his sometimes Bok partner experiencing a hot little streak in the try-scoring column.

Although his detractors might have conveniently opted to ignore it, the deftness and timing of the senior pro’s short pass to De Jongh, enabling him to slash through the Sharks defence en route to a result-influencing touchdown at Newlands on Saturday, should not be under-estimated.

It carried all the set-up hallmarks of a class act at No 12 and the Sharks, in particular, have often fallen prey to his wiles.

De Villiers has largely been on his defensive toes this season, too:  whenever he has “come off” his line, which can obviously carry associated risks, he has usually nailed his man, nipping a threatening hand-to-hand move firmly in the bud.

Being legendarily switched on to interception possibilities must also make opposition backlines reluctant to become too expansive whenever De Villiers is on the prowl.

At the outset of the Bok programme last year, the then-novice international captain had the additional chore of grappling with outside centre responsibilities, because Frans Steyn was deemed most worthy candidate then for the No 12 role.

The big change this year is that Steyn has experienced a near-violent dip in form and lustre, to such an extent that under current circumstances he simply does not justify a start for the Springboks, anywhere on the park.

My recommendation for the Bok midfield berths against Italy at Kings Park on June 8 would be De Villiers in his favoured role, with one of De Jongh or the Cheetahs’ Robert Ebersohn playing off him at 13.

Remember that although the last-named player has been excelling at No 12 for the Bloemfontein outfit this season, he is still more accustomed, in first-class terms, to being in the “further out” channel, and De Villiers’s superior stats on the scales and in centimetres make him better suited to being closer to rugby’s hotter spots.

Jan Serfontein? He is just finding his feet in Super Rugby, though many pundits wouldn’t object at all if he soaked in some tutelage from De Villiers and perhaps even got 10 or 20 minutes here and there in Tests during 2013 to enable De Villiers not to succumb too heavily to personal over-exposure.

Amidst a battery of questions on other elements of Bok planning, when Meyer gave his first collective media briefing at the mini-camp in this city on Monday, De Villiers’s name did not come up to any significant degree, if memory serves me correctly.

But the coach did chat candidly and informally with several journalists as he walked off the pitch at Westerford High School, and let’s just say that Sport24 can provide a firm assurance that people who matter are more than happy with De Villiers’s game and leadership right now.    

Jean de Villiers is Springbok captain because he has more than earned his stripes for it and does the job assuredly, both between the lines – where by all accounts his guidance is unanimously respected – and when faced by microphones and cameras.

Plain and simple.

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    springboks  |  jean de villiers  |  rugby

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