Jean de Villiers has been appointed Springbok captain for the three-Test series against England.
The issue of the Springboks captaincy has been a source of debate since Heyneke Meyer was announced as coach in January. He insisted then that he would take his time in making the decision and had initially identified Victor Matfield as his man.
However, an IRB ruling prevented Matfield’s immediate return from retirement and Meyer was forced to turn his attention to Fourie du Preez, who then ruled himself out, citing his belief that he was not mentally and physically prepared to return to international rugby.
Following this, De Villiers, who has lead the Stormers with distinction, was widely expected to be offered the opportunity to lead his country and he described it as the highlight of his career.
‘I made my debut for the Springboks 10 years ago and this feels like I’m that 21-year-old getting my first cap again,’ he said.
Meyer stressed that De Villiers’ appointment was only for the England series, after which the position would be reviewed. He spoke glowingly of De Villiers but cautioned him and future captains that their form would always be the primary criteria for selection.
‘I have a lot of admiration for Jean as a human being. Jean has a lot of integrity and a great work ethic. I always pick the personality first before I pick the player and he has always impressed me,’ Meyer said.
‘I’ve always been a big believer that the pack follows the leader’s pace. He sets the standard and that’s why I took time in ensuring that I had the right leader. A weak army with a great leader will always beat a great army with weak leadership. With the Springboks we’re lucky to have a great army and a great leader.
‘But I want to send the clear message that not even the captain is sure of his position. He has to perform. That doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence in him. He has been playing great rugby.’
De Villiers said he was acutely aware of the pressure that comes with his elevation but added that he has had a great education in his time as a professional both in Super Rugby and Tests.
‘I’ve had the privilege of playing under some great captains,’ he said. ‘I debuted under Corne Krige and Bob Skinstad was in the mix then as well. Then there’s Smitty [John Smit] and Victor [Matfield] and I know Andre Vos well as well. So I’ll take all that was good about them and add my own touch as well and lead the way I see fit.’
He added: ‘The only reason that I’ve been successful with the Stormers is that the guys have followed and help. A leader is only as strong as his team. I’ll rely a lot on the senior boys.’
Meyer won’t name his vice-captain until Wednesday but explained that there is an abundance of competent leaders within the squad who would offer De Villiers support and advice.
De Villiers meanwhile added that despite the time constraints on the team, they wouldn’t rely on an emotional appeal to rouse the team to the level of performance they needed to beat what he described as ‘a very good England team’.
‘From a technical point we need to get the principles in place and focus on what we want to achieve. The emotion will be there. We’ll focus on the technical stuff and later in the week the emotional appeal will come.’
By Ryan Vrede, in Durban