‘My heart was in my throat’

2012-06-05 00:00

NATIONAL coach Heyneke Meyer yesterday smoothed some of the ruffled feathers in Cape Town when he named Stormers centre Jean de Villiers as the Springbok captain for the three-Test series against England.

Meyer made the announcement in Umhlanga where the Springboks are preparing for the first Test at King’s Park on Saturday.

De Villiers was by no means his first choice, and indeed, Meyer has steadily worked his way through the list of South Africa’s most experienced players before finally settling on him.

With Schalk Burger and Juan Smith injured, Meyer wanted Victor Matfield to return and succeed John Smit as Bok captain, but an IRB ruling prevented the former Bulls lock from suddenly emerging from retirement to play again.

Meyer then opted for another former Bull, the Japan-based Fourie du Preez, as his captain, but then changed his mind on Friday when the veteran scrumhalf indicated that he may not have the appetite and form to play Test rugby again.

The choice was then between the captains of the Bulls (Pierre Spies) and the Stormers (De Villiers). The rugby public, facing the polarisation of South African rugby again, will surely welcome the appointment of someone not based in Pretoria.

Meyer has already been accused of provincial bias in loading his coaching staff and playing squad with Bulls.

His 32-man Bok squad, named on Saturday night, contained 13 Bulls and only three players from the Stormers who minutes before had won the big north-south Super Rugby derby at Loftus and now seem certain winners of the SA conference.

Meyer refuted allegations of provincial allegiance.

“I don’t count which guys are in which teams. I just pick the guys I believe are the best. There are a lot of great Stormers players injured, like Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Burger and Andries Bekker.

“If I pick a team, I need to pick the team that I believe is the right one.”

The 31-year-old De Villiers will become the 54th Springbok captain.

He has played in 72 Tests for the Boks after making his debut in 2002 and is the second most experienced member of the current Springbok squad with two fewer caps than Bryan Habana. He is only the fourth Springbok Test captain since 2003 after John Smit, Victor Matfield and Johann Muller.

“Jean’s leadership qualities are well established and he has always impressed me with his leadership on and off the field,” said Meyer.

“I’ve also been impressed by the way he’s led a young and inexperienced Stormers team in Super Rugby this year. He commands respect from everyone in South African rugby and in the short space of time we’ve worked together, Jean has shown that he understands what we want to achieve on the field.

“He will be surrounded by a core of strong leaders in the squad and we have the utmost faith in them.”

De Villiers was clearly delighted with his appointment.

“My heart was in my throat when Heyneke told me about his decision on Sunday evening,” said De Villiers.

“This is an honour that is not bestowed upon many people and I really hope I can do my country proud.

“I do realise there is massive responsibility that comes with this position. The real, hard work only starts now. 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.”

Meyer said the Springbok captaincy would be reviewed before the start of the Rugby Championship, which will involve South Africa in a series with New Zealand, Australia and Argentina starting in August.

He said his captain was not a protected species and would have to perform as a player.

“But I have every confidence in Jean and he has been playing great rugby,” he said.

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