Writing in Dublin, RYAN VREDE says the year-end tour will be a defining one in Jean de Villiers’ Test career.
De Villiers’ biggest battle at this point is not one shared by the collective, but very personal. His record as Springbok captain is poor and his form short of his inspirational best. His is a battle within a broader battle, manning his charges while trying to prove his ongoing worth as a Test player. De Villiers knows this and has an acute sense of the importance of this tour for him.
Heyneke Meyer has often purposefully, and inadvertently at other times, compounded the pressure on his captain to maintain a high level of performance. Meyer said from the outset that De Villiers will foremost be judged on his form and stressed that he would be done no selection favours if that form waned.
De Villiers knows that he isn’t Meyer’s first-choice inside centre and well down the queue of 13s. Meyer is actively working to secure the services of Jaque Fourie for the 2013 season, feeling the Japan-based player’s experience and class will elevate their backline play. JP Pietersen was strongly considered as an outside centre (with Jaco Taute playing fullback) for this tour. Bryan Habana’s injury forced a rethink, but Pietersen remains in contention for the position going forward, Meyer feeling his size and speed could give them a new dimension in the channel. Furthermore, Juan de Jongh continues to push for selection. A couple of days short of his 32nd birthday, De Villiers no longer has the speed to be considered as a winger, a position he was highly competent in in the infancy of his international career.
With no selection promises if and when his competition recover from injuries and his tenure as captain expiring at the end of the tour, De Villiers faces an uncertain 2013 if he doesn’t make an emphatic statement in the next three weeks, one that will remind Meyer of the class that puts him among the world’s pre-eminent midfielders when on form.
Fatigue may compromise his ability to achieve this goal. He has far exceeded the game time that a professional is able to play before his form drops off markedly, while the mental rigours of captaincy in a difficult season will further undermine his cause. He needs a break desperately. That won’t come on this tour. Consider also that he plays outside Pat Lambie, in just his second start at flyalf.
It is against this backdrop that De Villiers will have to summon something special in order to ensure the longevity of his Test career.
De Villiers’ jovial spirit belies a strength of character that will benefit him at this time. In a recent SA Rugby magazine interview I described him as ‘… a Whisper with a ball bearing centre. ‘You’ll crack your teeth if you think you can crack him,’ I added. I hope that quality enables him to overcome the obstacles that stand in his path to convincing Meyer not to cast him aside in 2013.