De Villiers open to future at 13

Jean de Villiers thinks a shift to outside centre could prolong his career.

With Jaque Fourie on an indefinite sabbatical from Test rugby while he builds his career in Japan and no outstanding candidates from any of the Super Rugby franchises to fill that void, De Villiers, who would not have been a starter under Heyneke Meyer had Fourie been available, has an opportunity to reinvent himself in the role.

Springbok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher said on Tuesday that he felt De Villiers is in fact better suited to the position, explaining that with their 12 to be deployed primarily as a strike runner who takes contact in a bid to get over the advantage line, De Villiers’ decision and play-making skill would be better utilised a channel wider.

Head coach Heyneke Meyer issued a warning on Monday that De Villiers’ position is not secured because of his appointment as captain, but did stress his belief in his ability. De Villiers, however, was receptive to the idea of a permanent positional shift.

‘I’m at the stage of my career where I’ll play where I get selected,’ he said. ‘At one stage I wanted to settle in one position to establish myself in the national team. I’m a bit older now and you do take a helluva lot of contact at 12, so maybe a shift to 13 could extend my career. When I get back to the Stormers they’ll have to make a decision about where they want to play me and I’ll just get on with that.’

Some have expressed concerns about thrusting him into a new position in a series of this magnitude and against a direct opponent of the calibre of Manu Tuilagi. But De Villiers allayed those fears, saying: ‘It isn’t a totally different position for me. I made my Springbok debut there and I’ve played there for the Stormers on attack and defence, even though I’ve had 12 on my back. It’s a pretty easy switch. Defensively 13 is the most difficult position given the sharp decisions you have to make there. But again it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.’

The midfield duel is going to be intriguing and one that will be decisive to the outcome. The Springboks have indicated that they will target Brad Barritt’s channel, with Frans Steyn expected to test his former Sharks team-mates’ defensive resolve. De Villiers spoke highly of England’s midfield pair though.

‘Brad has improved on what he already offered the Sharks when he was there. He is a good defender, he runs hard and good lines, is a good distributor and he is a great communicator and organiser. He has all the attributes a Test 12 needs to have and he is their go-to guy because of his composure under pressure,’ De Villiers said.

‘Tuilagi is also a fantastic player. He has shown that he is a massive threat on attack and defensively he is very solid as well. He has formed a great partnership with Brad. Frans and I will have our work cut, but challenges like these is what Test rugby is about.’

De Villiers’ easy-going manner off the pitch belies his high standards, intensity and intelligence as a leader on it. He has led the Stormers expertly in his time as captain and explained that it would be illogical to alter his approach now.

‘I don’t think I’d have to change my captaincy style at all,’ he said. ‘I don’t see the point of changing a style that has worked for me at the Stormers, which earned me the captaincy in the first place. I’ve been through a helluva lot with most of these guys. They know the type of character I am and know what I expect of the team.’

By Ryan Vrede, in Durban