Johannesburg – Following the 2011 Rugby World Cup talk turned to who’d succeed John Smit as Test captain. Names were bandied about and many felt the obvious choice would be Schalk Burger. When injury put paid to his chances, other names cropped up, but not too many actually thought Heyneke Meyer would settle on Jean de Villiers.
Meyer always favoured forwards to lead his Bulls team, but in the end he turned to the most senior player in his Springbok group and announced De Villiers as his captain.
With Meyer hailing from Pretoria and De Villiers from the Cape, it was an interesting combination as new coaches more often than not go with players they know, have perhaps worked with and understand. But the two men quickly forged a solid bond and by the end of last year there was no denying De Villiers and Meyer had become a formidable pairing.
De Villiers had led his team at Currie Cup and Super Rugby level so captaincy wasn’t an issue for him – he was comfortable dealing with the press, led by example and never got too flustered by criticism or negativity. Meyer has always said he looks first at the personality before the player when he makes his selections and in De Villiers he found a man that fitted the right profile.
Now, 21 Tests later and two years into the job, one cannot imagine the Boks without De Villiers as their leader. He may be 32 but he’s playing some of the best rugby of his career and is without question the first choice No12 in the country. If he stays injury-free he will be an integral part of the Bok team in 2015. He’s been playing Test rugby for 11 seasons, has over 90 caps to his name and is widely respected as a player and person.
De Villiers has taken to the Bok captaincy without a hitch. On the field he’s a force in the heat of battle and a force in dealing with referees, regularly quizzing them about decisions and incidents. He received high praise from the All Blacks after Saturday’s Test following the “hooker replacement” mishap, when he basically said it didn’t matter whether Dane Coles or Keven Mealamu came onto the field. “Jean was brilliant, what happened was a human error, and credit to him for the sportsmanship he showed,” said Kiwis coach Steve Hansen.
The Bok skipper, though, needs to be handled very carefully by those who manage him. He does not need to play Currie Cup rugby this year and maybe even shouldn’t tour with the Boks next month. He needs a rest so he can be fresh next year. But if it’s not De Villiers leading the team to Europe, then who will? Just shows what an integral member of the squad he’s become.