Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - If they gave out medals for always managing to look on the bright side of life, Springbok and Stormers captain Jean de Villiers would probably have a cupboard-load of them.
The veteran midfielder has been pretty much played into the ground once again in Super Rugby this season, primarily as a result of another campaign by the Newlands-based side dogged by injuries all around him.
But it is also due in no small measure to the fact that experienced centres have been in short supply at Newlands ever since Jaque Fourie
’s decision to leave the Stormers and pursue a full-time gig in Japan.
Had Fourie still been around in 2012 and 2013, they would have been far better able to rotate a three-strong nucleus of De Villiers, Fourie and Juan de Jongh; instead this year’s obvious first-choice pair has had to shoulder a heavy burden – and De Villiers especially so.
Despite this wearisome load, the Bok skipper has continued to deliver personal performances to a consistently high standard ... and he hasn’t even lost his sense of humour.
When asked at a press conference on Wednesday how he felt, having played just about every minute of the Stormers’ unusually stuttering 2013 campaign thus far, he quickly replied: “No, I did miss three minutes against the Brumbies.
“And I’m getting a rest this weekend by playing at 13 against the Reds - out of the traffic a bit!”
The move is necessitated by intended partner De Jongh being absent for Saturday’s showdown (17:05) with the 2011 champions; young Damian de Allende is far better suited to inside centre than No 13 where versatile De Villiers is more comfortably able to fill the void.
The Bok captain is simply too valuable an asset to leave out of the starting XV as the Stormers try to restore winning ways after three successive defeats on their Australasian tour that have left them 11th overall and a slightly dangerous fourth in the SA conference.
He is also in the thankless position of knowing that after the games against the Reds and then the Kings, also at home a week later, the June Test window kicks in straight away.
But if he is undesirably tired - don’t whisper it too loudly, an injury to himself just waiting to happen? - ahead of the three-match international spell, De Villiers is doing a good job of denying it.
“I’m feeling good ... you can’t predict injuries. They might happen, they might not, but we’re not thinking about that at this stage.
“What’s more at stake for me at this point is captaining this particular side and getting the ship back sailing again.
“The overseas tour was certainly disappointing and yes, we have shifted our goals a bit. It’s easy in times like this to jump ship, and that’s not in my character. I’d like to get it back on track.
“It’s about the team culture; what we stand for. Getting the pride for the jersey is (important).
“I’ve been through the dark days of Stormers and Western Province rugby and at least I know what it takes to get through those; how hard you need to work.
“I’m excited about the team selected this weekend ... what a great opportunity for some (rookies) to make a name for themselves.”
De Villiers said it was important to put his team’s current rugby difficulties in perspective.
“At the end of the day it’s just rugby. You look at what is going on in Oklahoma ... and on the way to training here today, someone was hit by a car on the N1. People are struggling for their lives.
“It hurts, the situation we are in as a rugby team. That’s sport. The responsibility on us is to get it right. We’ve got high standards and haven’t lived up to them.”
They sound like the frank words of a genuine leader - which is probably one reason why De Villiers was handed the Bok leadership duty by Heyneke Meyer
in 2012 in the first place.
When he runs out, his own continued fitness permitting, against Italy in Durban in two and a half weeks, the national captain may be a tired customer but it will be a surprise if his ability to bite the bullet for the cause of the day has been diluted at all.Teams:
15. Joe Pietersen
, 14. Gio Aplon, 13. Jean de Villiers (captain), 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Bryan Habana
, 10. Elton Jantjies
, 9. Louis Schreuder, 8. Nizaam Carr, 7. Don Armand, 6. Siya Kolisi
, 5. Eben Etzebeth
, 4. Gerbrandt Grobler, 3. Brok Harris
, 2. Tiaan Liebenberg
, 1. Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Chris Heiberg, 18. Marius Coetzer, 19. Rohan Kitshoff, 20. Dewaldt Duvenage
, 21. Gary van Aswegen, 22. Gerhard van den Heever
TBA*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing