Follow the leader: The Bok’s quest
SPRINGBOK coach Heyneke Meyer showed a glimpse of his thinking yesterday as he intimated that Stormers stalwart Jean de Villiers may be his pick to captain the Springboks against England in mid-year.
Speaking at the third and final Springbok planning camp in Cape Town yesterday, Meyer applauded the five South African Super Rugby franchise captains, yet made special mention of De Villiers.
“I’ve been really impressed with Jean de Villiers,” Meyer said. “I’m impressed with the way he organizes the backline and he is one of the players who will be available.”
The international retirements of the likes of John Smit, Victory Matfield, Jacques Fourie and Fourie du Preez has opened the door to the next wave of Springboks, but has left a leadership vacuum, a situation that has been compounded by long-term injuries to Schalk Burger and Juan Smith.
Rugby circles have been abuzz in recent weeks with talk of a possible return to international rugby for Matfield – which would solve the captaincy issue – but the Bok veteran is still engaged in his commentating duties and there seems very little clarity on his immediate future plans.
Which leaves the five franchise captains – De Villiers, Adriaan Strauss (Cheetahs), Josh Strauss (Lions), Keegan Daniel (Sharks) and Pierre Spies (Bulls).
Strauss and Daniel are not in the mix for a starting berth which rules them out, while Strauss, the subject of recent media reports linking him to the Bok captaincy, will have done his cause precious little good by overseeing his side’s spectacular implosion against the Highlanders last week.
That leaves De Villiers and Spies, whose fans and detractors are roughly of equal number.
De Villiers has certainly put up his hand for the role of Springbok captain after leading the Stormers through the early rounds of the campaign in the absence of Burger.
Said Meyer of his captaincy requirements: “I need someone with rugby intelligence on the field but also someone who will have a good relationship with the media and portray a good character off the field. Most important, I will be looking for someone who knows what he is doing on the field and most importantly someone who will buy into my philosophy. If he wants to play a different style (to me), then that’s a clash and we will never be able to work together.”
Asked about the possibility, the 72-capped Springbok said: “No one will say no to something like that, but we are still a long way out, so I will first focus on making the team before I think about doing something like that. That’s his (Meyer) decision and he will select someone he is comfortable with, and all I can do is my best in my leadership role and playing abilities.”
Meyer yesterday also revealed his hand with regards to the make-up of his midfield by saying he was toying with the idea of moving De Villiers to outside centre to accommodate Francois Steyn in the No 12 jumper.
Meyer said that De Villiers was quick enough to play at No 13 instead of his usual inside centre berth.
“I have just spoken to his fitness and conditioning coach, and he said that Jean is probably the quickest that he’s been,” the Bok coach said. “I have been impressed with his organisation of the backs, and we need an experienced head there. I will discuss that possibility with him. Definitely a good possibility – he runs great lines and has got the speed.”
Meyer seemed confident in the imminent return of Steyn from France and said the 24-year-old could be key to Springbok fortunes in years to come.
“He is a great player, and if he comes back, it will probably be a long-term decision because he is only 24,” Meyer said. “He can still play another two World Cups.”