Jean to lead Boks?
3 May 2012
Heyneke Meyer will only name his Springbok captain on 4 June but admits that Jean de Villiers’s leadership in the Super Rugby competition has impressed him greatly.
With a number of senior Test players sidelined or unavailable, Meyer is running short on prospective captaincy options.
It’s been rumoured that one of Fourie du Preez or Victor Matfield will come out of retirement to lead the Boks against England, but it’s not yet clear whether these players will make themselves available.
Schalk Burger (knee injury) won’t be back until July, and two other senior players, Jaque Fourie and Juan Smith, have ruled themselves out. Smith is recovering from a long-term Achilles injury while Fourie has signed a club deal in Japan that precludes him from Test rugby.
De Villiers (wrist) is recovering from an injury of his own, but could be back on the field for the Stormers by as early as next week. The veteran Bok centre is expected to form part of the squad selected for the England series, and given the dearth of experienced leaders, he may well be handed the captaincy.
Meyer stressed that he has made no final decision on the post, but intimated that De Villiers is a strong candidate.
‘I’ve been impressed with all of the franchise captains, there are a lot of great leaders in this country,’ the Bok coach said. ‘I will have to pick somebody who shares my philosophy and is an extension of myself on the playing field. Because there is not a lot of time before the England Tests it will be a short-term appointment, but I still want someone with the right character and the necessary rugby intelligence.
‘I don’t want this to be taken out of context, because I will only make the decision in the build-up to that first Test, but Jean has impressed me with the way he has led the Stormers and organised the backline.’
While De Villiers has done a fine job with the Stormers, he wouldn’t necessarily be guaranteed the No 12 position at the Boks. Frans Steyn had an outstanding 2011 World Cup in the centres, and is expected to start in that midfield position when the Boks front England.
Steyn formed a great partnership with Fourie at the 2007 World Cup and again at the 2011 global tournament. With Fourie no longer available, however, Meyer will have to pick somebody else to play No 13.
And given that the Bok coach wants to field an experienced side and there are not too many veterans available, it could be that De Villiers comes in at outside centre.
‘It is something I will need to think about,’ Meyer said. ‘I’ve spoken to Jean’s conditioning coach at the Stormers and he tells me that Jean is as quick as he’s ever been. I know that he runs great lines and he’s impressed me with his organisational ability. So it’s definitely a possibility.’
De Villiers has made it clear in every media offering this season that he still has the desire to represent the Boks. The 31-year-old doesn’t believe that his best years as an international centre are behind him.
‘As you get older there’s a perception that you get slower, but that isn’t the case,’ De Villiers said, alluding to Meyer’s comment on his training times. ‘When your speed is still up there and you can still contribute on the field, then it is clear that age doesn’t matter.
‘Perhaps getting kicked out of the World Cup earlier [the Boks lost to the Wallabies in the quarter-final] has had some benefits. It was good to have a long off-season and then a full pre-season with the Stormers. It was good to have that mental break, and I can tell you I’m still very motivated to wear the Bok jersey.’
Meyer and De Villiers were scheduled to sit down for a one-on-one interview on Thursday afternoon. Meyer has sat with each and every one of the 103 players selected across the three Bok training camps. It is in this interview that the Bok mentor and the centre may learn what the one wants from the other.
‘I haven’t worked with Heyneke before, so I have a lot of questions and uncertainties,’ said De Villiers. ‘I want to find out what he wants from me as a player, and what are the positives and negatives in my game. I also want to get an idea of how he does things as a coach.
‘It would be a massive honour to captain the Boks, but I first have to make the team,’ he said.
By Jon Cardinelli