Cape Town - Springbok rugby captain Jean de Villiers may be the nation’s centre on the field, but off it his family is his centre.
As the rugby season winds down, De Villiers, 32, is back home in Cape Town to spend precious time with his wife Marlie, and their two girls Layli, 22 months, and Lana, three months.
De Villiers can now relax after leading the Springboks in the 2013 Rugby Championship. The Boks took second place following their clash with long-standing rivals New Zealand in Joburg last Saturday. They were defeated 36-27.
De Villiers has since switched from skipper back to family man.
“It’s very tough to be away from home. At this age they grow so fast and you miss out on a lot. So when I’m home, I spend as much time with them as I can,” he says.
De Villiers has only praise for his wife, who he describes as a strong woman. The couple met as students at Stellenbosch University and married in 2010.
After all these years, they’re still very much in love.
“She’s always the last person I speak to before I switch my phone off before a game, and the first one I speak to when I switch it back on,” says De Villiers.
Part of why their relationship works so well, he says, is because it’s really important to have a partner who understands what the other is going through. “It’s tough when I’m away, and she does take a bit of strain, but she does such a good job with the girls,” he says.
As physically and mentally taxing as his job on the field is, it doesn’t end when he walks through the door.
The first thing he does when he gets home is revert to “normal person” mode.
“Usually I’m really tired so I’ll sit and talk to my wife. Then, when the kids wake up, spend time with them.”
Before long, the hands-on dad is tucking Layli in, and changing Lana’s nappies. “I don’t run away from those things. But I do lose my touch when I’ve been away, so it takes some getting used to each time,” he admits.
De Villiers says what he enjoys most in life is his family. “Just being with them in our comfort zone, seeing the kids grow… just being normal,” says the skipper.
De Villiers grew up in Paarl, and attended Paarl Gimnasium, then went on to Stellenbosch University.
He comes from a close-knit sporting family. His father Andre also played rugby for Western Province, and his mother Louise was a Western Province swimmer. But he says neither parent forced their boys into sport. He and his brother Andre-Louis played together in the WP U-19 side.
Andre-Louis was a prop, while Jean played centre.
“My mom, dad and brother have always supported me. They are an important part of my life,” he says, adding that growing up in the De Villiers’ household was a positive experience. He went on to play for the Baby Boks, Western Province, the Stormers and, in 2012, was named Springbok captain.
He also captains Western Province and the Stormers.
Today, De Villiers is a sports celebrity, but remembers when he was a boy and the many players who were his heroes. All he wanted was their autograph, or a photo with them.
“Sometimes, I still see myself as that kid. So I really don’t mind when people come up to me and I do a signature here and there,” he says
But, for the most part, his neighbours treat him like any other person. They’ll make small talk at the shop, and he says it’s nice to get a few words of encouragement.
For now, De Villiers is looking forward to some downtime with his family. He enjoys taking his older daughter to the park near his city home, and he and Marlie spend many afternoons having lunch at wine farms to unwind.
When it comes to family get-aways, they favour the small towns along the West Coast, walking along the beach, taking in the scenery, and being an ordinary family.
“I’m a Cape Town boy through and through. I think we’re very fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of the world.
“I travel a lot, but I always come back and realise just how special this place is.” - Cape Argus