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Conjecture in the weekend press that Fourie du Preez will be named interim Springbok captain for the series against England gained substance on Monday when Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer spoke of a “fruitful” meeting with the World Cup scrumhalf last Thursday, and declared the 29-year-old revitalised and hungry to play again for South Africa, and agreeable to the leadership role.
Meyer on Saturday night names a 32-man squad and captain for the England series, cutting it down from the 42 that did duty in Durban on Monday and on Sunday in the first (and only) full national camp ahead of the June 9 kick-off against England in Durban.
The Springbok coach said Du Preez was free from contractual obligations with his Japanese club for the month of June, as well as IRB red tape, and was thus available to play in all three Tests and that the player had given the coach an earnest promise that he still wants to play for and captain South Africa.
Du Preez has enjoyed his time in the Land of the Rising Sun and the relaxed playing schedule, not to mention the light intensity of the rugby, has allowed him to recover fully from the shoulder injury that bugged him last year.
Another captaincy possibility is Stormers centre Jean de Villiers, but Meyer’s long and successful history with a trusted lieutenant such as Du Preez could count in his favour.
“I am looking at personalities that I can identify with and guys that intimately understand the game-plan we have in mind for the Boks,” Meyer said.
“Captaining your country is a huge thing and something that I have been thinking about for months, and I am just relieved that I got it right in not making an early announcement because if, for instance, I had named Schalk Burger in January, I would have had to make three more subsequent captaincy announcements given the injuries we have had.”
The coach further confirmed that the captaincy issue would be re-looked at ahead of the Rugby Championship and that a captain would be appointed for the rest of the year, but that things could change in 2013.
In contrast, Jake White in 2004 and Peter de Villiers in 2008 appointed a long-term captain in John Smit, and South Africa has not had a buzz about the identity of the new captain for eight years.
“The captaincy issue is an even bigger thing in South Africa than I imagined it to be,” Meyer said with a bemused smile. “I knew it was an emotional topic but did not realise it was quite this big, and to reiterate, I am really pleased that it is not something I rushed in to. There really was no reason to do so given that the captain would have had no role to play for six months, anyway. So I think this is one issue I have got right.”
Meyer did add, however, that Du Preez’s involvement going forward could be problematic given his ties to Suntory Goliath (coached by former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones).
“We have to work around the mechanics of his contract agreements, but they are not playing rugby in this window so I am just planning for England and am pleased Fourie will be involved.”
Another overseas-based scrumhalf on Monday confirmed for duty against England is Ulster’s Ruan Pienaar
“I am looking at every single guy available to South Africa,” Meyer said. “On Thursday, we will have our big meeting with the coaching staff to finalise the squad, and pedigree will play a role. It must not be a case of a guy playing one great game and then he is in the team.”
But with the Stormers and Bulls clashing in one SA derby and the Lions hosting the Sharks in another, Meyer admits his hand might be forced if the injury toll continues to rise.
“You can’t get away from the hand you have been dealt (with the derbies) and you don’t want to make excuses because Australia and New Zealand have the same scenario,” Meyer said. “It is great to see the guys play with such intensity in the derbies, and if they can carry that into the Tests, that is awesome, but I am worried about injuries.
“You have to take the positives out of every situation and the derbies are making the guys fight it out against each other, and competition for places is consequently picking up.”