Cape Town – Jean de Villiers may have turned 32 this year, but there is no stopping the Springbok captain.
In fact, you could say that we have seen the Jean de Villiers of old in 2013, such has been his form. He seems to have rediscovered that creative touch that he had when he first burst on to the scene a decade ago.
There was a time that De Villiers made more use of his big size to charge at defenders to get over the advantage line instead of mixing it up more often with an offload in the tackle or a long cut-out pass. Considering his performances this year, especially for the Springboks, he has regained that vision to unlock defences.
That straight-line speed is still in those legs after 93 Tests, and Western Province are grateful to have him back in the starting line-up for Saturday’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Golden Lions at Newlands.
“Jean is in the form of his life. Even during a very tough Super 15 where we didn’t get the results in a poor performing side, he was definitely one of our best performing players,” WP backline coach Robbie Fleck told the Cape Times.
“He led by example, and it’s not just his leadership, but his play. And he has taken that form into Test-match rugby and he has been phenomenal. For me, he has been one of the players of the year, and hopefully he gets the reward.
“There was a time that he took the ball up mostly, but I think that goes hand in hand with the way the team is playing. At the end of Super Rugby we started to attack better, so he started getting back into his natural attacking role. And with the Springboks, he’s been getting great quick ball and a lot of space, so he’s been able to use that creativity and that passing game that you don’t often see.
“It’s been years since we’ve seen a Springbok team score tries like they have been lately, and he’s been instrumental in that. We worked on his handling, and his passing game has been phenomenal, especially at the Boks. We’ve been considerably better than in Super Rugby, so we are excited to see how he goes.”
There has been a lot of debate around whether top Boks such as De Villiers, Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen should be playing Currie Cup rugby considering the long rugby season and next month’s Bok tour, but the skipper is showing no signs of fatigue.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that he has missed a lot of rugby over the years due to a number of serious injuries, so he wants to cash in while things are going well.
WP coach Allister Coetzee attributes much of De Villiers’s success to his fitness levels. “I think he’s in good condition – you can’t have a good season if your conditioning is not right up there. It’s testimony to his hard work and the amount of time that he puts in as an individual,” Coetzee told the Cape Times.
“Jean is a mentally strong person and he knows his body by now. He’s gone through a hell of a lot of injuries, and we have quite a good relationship in terms of managing himself. He understands his body, so it’s not the 80 minutes, but the amount of training he does. It’s important to know when to give him off, when to attend sessions for him to be around and still be influential on the weekend.”
Coetzee believes that apart from the respect De Villiers commands as a leader at national and provincial level, his playmaking skills have been complemented by better decision-making on attack.
“His leadership has grown and he is one of the best captains in world rugby. When you talk about a proper leader – he serves the team and it’s not about him. That is what has made him such an outstanding leader, which demands a hell of a lot of respect from the other players.
“I think the creative touch comes from the decision that’s been made. So once you make a good decision, an early decision and it’s the right decision, then you can do the other stuff.
“If he sees the wall, he tucks. If there’s no wall and there’s space, he can do that (create opportunities). That is what Jean is good at and his decision-making has been superb.
“The talent and the skill has always been there, but it has been a huge step-up to see and recognise situations better. It’s recognition of opportunities, which has been outstanding.”
Due to Juan de Jongh’s late recovery from a hamstring problem, De Villiers will play at outside centre tomorrow, with Damian de Allende at No 12. Lions No 13 Lionel Mapoe is a strong ball-carrier who will provide a searching test for De Villiers, but Coetzee doesn’t think it’s an issue for the Bok captain to play in a wider channel.
“He’s got enough gas for that position. He is still one of the fastest guys in the squad and he normally has that knack to look for that outside option, that gap.”
*Captain Deon Fourie was voted as the Players’ Player of the Year at the WP Rugby annual awards at Kelvin Grove last night. Duane Vermeulen was chosen as the Most Valuable Player.
WP RUGBY AWARDS WINNERS
Players’ Player of the Year: Deon Fourie
MVP Award: Duane Vermeulen
Best Forward: Steven Kitshoff
Best Back: Jean de Villiers
Most Promising Forward: Nizaam Carr.
Most Promising Back: Damian de Allende
Best Club Player: Tazz Fuzani
Best Woman’s Player: Natasha Hofmeester