Boks to do it for ‘seniors’?

2015-10-15 12:00
Schalk Burger (Gallo Images)

Cape Town – It is unlikely to have totally avoided the notice of the Springboks that their World Cup quarter-final at Twickenham on Saturday will also be the first time they have played Wales since the horrendous, multi-pronged leg injury to their long-time captain Jean de Villiers.

At a cruelly late stage of the season-ending European tour fixture at the Millennium Stadium in 2014, when the Welsh earned only their second victory ever over the Boks, the veteran centre crumpled backwards screaming in hideous pain at a breakdown, another anterior cruciate ligament tear being just one of the mishaps experienced in the accident.

But that occurrence also served as almost immediate starting point of one of the most grimly-devoted rehabilitation quests, against the clock, for De Villiers to try to make the cut for RWC – a tournament that has traditionally offered him lamentably little in the way of fitness luck.

It is history now that the tenacious character, having defied the odds to be there, was just starting to demonstrate true signs of his artistry and acumen of old against Samoa at Villa Park when a freak collision (again at an advanced stage of the game) with Tim Nanai-Williams suddenly put paid to his often auspicious Test career.

The ever-upbeat and good-humoured De Villiers is back in the squad’s midst for the critical advanced stages of the tournament, and by all accounts a popular presence in an advisory and mentorship capacity.

If I were a betting man, I’d be staking a bit of dosh on coach Heyneke Meyer adding to the motivation levels among his charges by urging them to “keep the dream alive” against Wales partly as a tribute to the man he placed such staunch leadership faith in from 2012 onward.

But it is not solely about De Villiers, of course.

Other seasoned figures in the Bok ranks – ones still in playing mode – similarly deserve a huge collective effort on Saturday not to be swiftly, brutally eliminated from RWC 2015 at a stage they all know will hardly be considered acceptable to South Africa’s demanding support base.

As I wrote on Wednesday, there is the considerable risk now that 38-year-old Victor Matfield may have ended his lengthy, record-breaking international career on 125 caps, given his continued sidelining from the match-day 23 by a hamstring problem.

It is far more fitting for players to officially bow out on the field of combat itself, thus earning them the undoubted pleasure of a rousing send-off from appreciative rugby spectators and mass television audiences.

For the big second-rower to have the possibility of that experience, the Boks will need to move onward to the semis, which also automatically confirm onward passage to a playoff fixture for third place contested by the two losing sides at that phase.

And then there’s a certain Schalk Burger: like Matfield, this is his fourth and almost undoubtedly final World Cup at the age of 32 and he has been a legendarily up-and-at-‘em character in green and gold for some 13 years.

Burger at least has the opportunity to influence the outcome of this particular knockout clash, given his rightful presence among the starting XV.

It was not long ago at all, when you think about it, that this heart-and-soul campaigner (if he were a soldier, he’d be like one who stood on three landmines but somehow survived to tell captivating tales) came desperately close to death in a freak, high medical drama.

He also had to undertake his own comeback from being as weak as the proverbial kitten physically and beginning it with uncharacteristically painstaking, “doc’s orders” requirements like gentle rambles in Newlands Forest.

Yet here is Burger, alive, kicking ... and three games from a repeat of 2007 RWC heroics.  

Further Springboks are likely to be bidding farewell to World Cup activity, at the very least, whenever the team does bow out of the current one.

Their ranks include acting skipper Fourie du Preez, that quiet fellow of huge rugby gravitas, as well as the France-bound Du Plessis brothers, Bismarck and Jannie, and Bryan Habana, although the still razor-sharp wing might not retire until some time after he has eclipsed Matfield’s caps mark.    

The end of an era is very, very near.

The Boks, every man jack of them, will go to peculiar lengths to stretch out the experience to a level of high – or even ultimate -- honour.

Won’t they?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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