It’s been nine years of blood, sweat and tears, but even though Jean de Villiers hasn’t tasted Super Rugby glory yet ahead of his 100th match for the Stormers, he says what keeps him going is the fact that his team are “still hunting the trophy”.
De Villiers made his Stormers debut in the then-Super 12 in 2005, remarkably three years after his Test bow for the Springboks, as two serious injuries before the 2003 and 2004 seasons saw him miss out on Super Rugby.
He said yesterday from the team’s base in Auckland ahead of Friday’s clash against the Chiefs that despite not having won the title after having come so close in recent seasons, he still feels that there have been many highlights in the 99 games he’s played.
De Villiers, who turned 33 last month, made his Stormers debut in a 26-12 win over the Sharks at Newlands in 2005 as a left wing, scoring a try on the day too.
He will become the second Stormers player to reach his century after Andries Bekker achieved the feat last year. And there can be no doubting his ability, even at 33, as he was chosen as the SA Rugby Player of the Year last month following a superb season for the Springboks.
De Villiers said: “There was a time when we were really struggling as a Stormers franchise to be really competitive and to make it to the playoffs, and to develop a team that can be competitive week-in and week-out. To be part of that rebuilding phase and getting it back to where we’ve been over the last couple of years, I think that for me is quite pleasing.
“Yes, people will say that we haven’t won the competition yet, and in fairness, we haven’t, but to see that sort of improvement is really pleasing and the young players coming through. You see a guy playing his first game, and in a couple of years he’s suddenly progressing all the way to the Springboks and becoming a world-class player.
“The highs definitely outweigh the lows, but I suppose that is what keeps you going – that we are still hunting that trophy and trying to win this competition, which is not easy. But you always have to aim high, and we are still doing that.”
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee lauded his captain for his contribution to the Cape side over the years. “When you get to Jean de Villiers, the player himself epitomises what a Stormer stands for. This oke has been through the wars for the Stormers, for the jersey, for Western Province Rugby, and as a leader and a player, he is a great example to a lot of young players who have the aspiration to become a Stormer one day,” the coach said from Auckland yesterday.
“It’s going to be a great occasion, and we want to make it a special one from our point of view.”
But in typically understated De Villiers fashion, he insisted that him reaching his milestone won’t be the main motivation for the Stormers in Hamilton on Friday.
“I’m not the type of guy who will psych the guys up to play for me and my 100th.
“The guys are pretty switched on from a mental point of view and will be ready to go, just for the mere state that we find ourselves in.”
Meanwhile, Coetzee made three expected injury-enforced changes to the team yesterday, with Brok Harris at tighthead for Frans Malherbe – who will be given until tomorrow to show that his broken little toe won't affect him – Tiaan Liebenberg is at hooker for Scarra Ntubeni and Ruan Botha replaces Michael Rhodes at No 4 lock.
The coach made a surprise decision by sticking with Demetri Catrakilis, who hasn’t made much of an impact so far, ahead of Peter Grant at flyhalf. Grant will be on the bench.
De Villiers said that he would be in constant communication with referee Craig Joubert about any off-the-ball incidents during the game. The Crusaders were accused of holding players back in their 14-13 victory over the Stormers last Saturday.
“I don’t think we will get a bit of that – we will get a hell of a lot of that! And yes, I will definitely speak to Craig prior to the game, and I will be hard on his case during the game. It’s just such a tough thing to handle as a player, because what can you do?
“It’s a very tough thing, and you want to keep the game clean. So either the ref needs to do something about it or we as players need to do something about it. And then it can get messy.”
When De Villiers was asked whether speaking in Afrikaans to Joubert – who is English-speaking and from Pietermaritzburg – would help the situation on Friday, the captain quipped: “Well, I hope he understands the swear words!”
15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff. Bench: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau. - Cape Times