Superb De Villiers walked the talk
11 Jun 2012
MARK KEOHANE, in his Business Day newspaper column, says Jean de Villiers typifies the qualities that Heyenke Meyer seeks in a player and a person.
Jean de Villiers was given the Bok captaincy by default. Bok coach Heyneke Meyer had wanted retired veterans Victor Matfield and Fourie du Preez to make a comeback, if only for comfort in the three-Test series against England. But it is by design that De Villiers may yet make the captaincy his own because he certainly can choose where he wants to play in the Bok backline, be it 11, 12, 13 or 14.
De Villiers has played all four positions and has rarely played a poor international game. Meyer insisted that whoever captains the Boks must be good enough to start. There can be no debate about De Villiers as a starting option and when the England series is completed I doubt there will be debate about his credentials as an international captain.
De Villiers has been superb leading the Stormers after a knee injury limited Schalk Burger to just 15 minutes of action in this year’s competition, but there hasn’t been a greater challenge than leading Meyer’s first run-on Bok XV. And in a very fine international career to date there also hasn’t been an as emphatic a response from De Villiers, who epitomises the ideals and character Meyer associates with rugby leaders.
De Villiers, once regarded as the team’s king of comedy, has a harder edge to his game these days and while the charismatic smile is always on display, this is a player who understands the responsibility of leadership, and plays with an intelligence matched only by bravery.
Willem Alberts, in his most influential Test performance, was a popular choice for Man of the Match, but the man of the occasion for me was De Villiers because of how he led with his actions as much as he did with his inspirational words.
De Villiers was on the receiving end of some monster hits and produced some crunching tackles. But he never stayed down for long, be it because he had put an opponent on his back or because he had been hit by the Manu Tuilagi steam train.
Meyer, during his Bulls decade, defined players by their ability to play through pain and to bleed. Rugby, he said, was a game of collisions; ballroom dancing was a contact sport.
De Villiers reinforces all those qualities Meyer seeks in a player and a person, and this will significantly bring calmness to the Bok coach and his management team.
I thought the Boks were brilliant in the third quarter of the game. The 20 minutes post half-time is an indication of the possibilities of Bok rugby in the Meyer era.
England, confident and bullish in the first half, couldn’t cope with the intensity, physicality and tempo of that 20-minute period. This is a young England side, but it is also one that has just completed a Six Nations campaign. They were the more settled of the two sides and coach Stuart Lancaster admitted after the defeat that his side had not experienced the level of intensity produced by the Boks after half-time.
Better decision-making from a number of players and more accuracy from Morné Steyn off the kicking tee would have ensured a winning margin more reflective of the Boks’ control of the match in the second half.
The Boks, understandably, were going to be vulnerable in the first 40. This group had been together for only a week, with a new coach and management team, but England’s reward for dominance in those opening 40 minutes was just two penalties. That was never going to be enough to fashion victory against the Boks who had been given a verbal lashing in the change-room at half time for being a split second off the pace in support play and cleaning out at the ruck.
Initially, England appeared to be the stronger in contact and in collisions, but the superior physicality belonged to the Boks, who, when they got the timing of their support play right, bossed the gainline.
The Boks didn’t show enough patience on attack, didn’t initially trust each other sufficiently to work the ball through phases, and there was some outrageously immature individual decision-making. But these are things you accept from a team playing their first international of the season under a new coach. Pleasingly, many of the evils of the first half were corrected in the second 40.
Of the seasoned players, De Villiers and Bryan Habana were as good as they have been in any Test. Frans Steyn showed plenty of strength in the tackle and Pat Lambie offered more when replacing Zane Kirchner at fullback. The scrum went well, the lineout was kept basic, and as the match progressed we saw more cohesion from the forwards as a unit.
Alberts and young loose forward Marcell Coetzee were convincing in everything they did and so was Meyer in his management of the players, and especially in his introduction of the bench players.
Reserve hooker Adriaan Strauss was powerful, busy and controlled, and if the Boks, as a unit, can be the same this weekend they’ll comfortably win the match and the series.