Fourie du Preez (Gallo Images)
Newcastle – They say that when some shy people unexpectedly open their mouths, they have a knack of getting every other person in the room to suddenly cease their yakking and listen.
That’s the sort of personality the Springboks possibly possess in the shape of their 56th captain Fourie du Preez, unveiled at the team announcement media briefing here on Wednesday evening ahead of Saturday’s pivotal RWC 2015 clash with Pool B leaders Scotland (17:45 SA time).
Although probably only doing the job in a caretaker capacity following injuries to both Jean de Villiers (Test career-ending) and his expected tournament successor Victor Matfield (more temporary) against Samoa last time out, the revered scrumhalf also becomes the 15th Bok skipper of the post-isolation era ... and almost certainly the most publicly reserved and soft-spoken of that group.
Fortunately the well-attended press conference just across the River Tyne from the main city was held in a relatively small room, otherwise it would have been a great challenge for people at the back to hear the words of the 33-year-old, not helped by how far – instinctively? – he kept his head back from the microphones and recorders.
It is not as though he is a complete mouse or necessarily media-resistant, because every now and then he would politely interrupt if a fresh question had been fired to the man alongside him, the altogether more wordy coach Heyneke Meyer, and he hadn’t quite finished what he was intending to say.
Meyer did, however, quickly get the opportunity to place in a nutshell his choice of the balding No 9 as leader, saying: “I was astonished by his rugby knowledge even when I first coached him as a 19-year-old, and always believed he would become a rugby genius. He is that ... respected worldwide.”
Du Preez himself speaks politely but economically, and there are no surprises when he explains what his captaincy style will be like: “It’s obviously a massive privilege for me ... I’m not going to be a big speaker or motivational speaker or whatever ... hopefully I can lead from the front. We’re only thinking about beating Scotland this weekend.”
That’s Du Preez for you, the consummate let’s-just-get-the-job-done sort of character, who saves his flair and vision for rugby matches themselves.
He seems a good choice, given the natural gravitas he possesses in the game; also noticeable with him over the years is just how much more animated and expressive the Suntory Goliath-based player gets on the field of conflict, than when he is faced with any media responsibilities.
Especially given the blessing of being as close to the fulcrum of the action as he is from a positional point of view, Du Preez has previously not been at all averse to chipping in his point of view quite passionately on the pitch, and it goes some way to explaining why, pre-World Cup, he was considered part of a leadership quartet along with intended main man De Villiers, plus Matfield and Schalk Burger.
The last-named player is a friend and team-mate of his in Japan, and will be his deputy and pack leader against Scotland; Du Preez stressed he was grateful to be able to call on the supporting leadership qualities of both Burger and Duane Vermeulen from very nearby at St James’ Park.
Especially as he is a caretaker – though it will be interesting to see just for how long, given that the 38-year-old Matfield may not necessarily be ready for fresh duty before the pool phase ends – the “PR” side of things in their captain presumably matters a bit less to the Bok management than it would if he were a more long-term appointment.
Asked by Sport24 how he felt from a personal stamina and sharpness point of view after getting through a welcome and inspiring 73 minutes in his long-awaited comeback against Samoa last weekend, Du Preez admitted he had been fast-tracked to an extent, considering the sensational reverse to Japan at the start of the tournament.
“Last week was a bit of a tough one, where I didn’t really have a choice (but to play) ... I had to make a step up and play for as long as possible.
“The plan had originally been to start this week or next, but I had to (advance it). The rib problem I got (in Birmingham) is fine, 100 percent, and it is nice to know now that after doing 73 minutes I could have gone also 80 at Villa Park. I’m happy with that fact as well.”
Du Preez admitted that there had been Bok leadership possibilities for him as early as 2012, ahead of Meyer’s appointment of De Villiers.
“Yes, there had been talk between me and the coach ... a few of you reported on it. Just the situation at the time ... it couldn’t happen.
“Luckily Jean took over and had four wonderful years in charge. Credit to him as well.
“Life is funny. A few weeks back I didn’t think I was going to even be here. A few months back I didn’t even think I’d be playing rugby.
“So to be sitting here today as captain for the weekend ... it’s unbelievable for me. I’ve worked really hard to be here.”
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing. Rob is attending the Bok pool phase at RWC 2015 to provide news and analysis for Sport24 readers.