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Given that a well-prepared, well-armed Red Rose army is about to engage the Springboks in battle, it was appropriate that Heyneke Meyer used war-speak yesterday when unveiling the 54th Springbok captain in Capetonian Jean de Villiers.
“I’ve always believed that a weak army with a great leader will always beat a great army with a weak leadership,” the Springbok coach said. “But with the Springboks, we are lucky in that we’ve got a great army and a great leader. I’m very happy to announce Jean as the captain. He is a guy with enormous integrity and work ethic, and the ideal man to blood our new recruits in battle.”
Meyer added that his decision was also based on De Villiers’s engaging personality.
“I have a lot of belief and faith in Jean. He’s always impressed me as a human being and I always select the personality first before the rugby player,” the coach said. “I have always wanted to send out a clear message that the captain still has to perform, he is not guaranteed his position. But Jean has really impressed me with the way he’s led a young Stormers team, and as the Springboks are a team in transition, I cannot think of a better man equipped to mentor the youngsters in our squad.”
Meyer said that he took a long time to make the decision, five months in fact, and he says the beauty of his decision lies in the reality that he never allowed himself to settle on one player and instead allowed time to reveal his captain.
Speaking of time, it was only at 11pm on Sunday night that Meyer finally called in De Villiers and offered him one of the toughest jobs in world rugby – just six days before the first skirmish with the English.
“I wanted to make the right decision. I’ve always believed that the troops follow the pace set by the leader,” Meyer said. “That’s why for me the captain is so important. He sets the standards and is the example to the whole team. That’s why I took a lot of time and made sure I chose the right leader.”
De Villiers said he had no hesitation in accepting the honour. “I want to lead the Springboks. The green and gold has always meant the world to me and being offered the captaincy is the highlight of my career,” he said.
“I made my debut 10 years ago and to now be picked as captain, well, I feel like the 21-year-old getting his first cap. It’s a great, great honour and privilege.”
Having been around the block during his 72-Test career and been the shoulder that captains have cried on, De Villiers knows exactly what he is in for over the next three weeks of the England series. And he also knows he is on trial because Meyer has appointed him only for these three Tests.
De Villiers acknowledged as much: “With this job comes massive pressure and I definitely have big boots to fill now that John Smit and Victor Matfield aren’t here. I’ve had the privilege to play under many great captains. I made my debut under Corné Krige; Bob Skinstad was still in the mix. Then there was Smitty and Victor and going back even further, I know André Vos well.
“You learn from those guys and hopefully I can apply the best of what each one of them had to offer, as well as add my own personal touch, and lead the team as well as I can.”
De Villiers admitted that his captaincy experience came down to what he has done in leading the Stormers to the top of the Super Rugby standings, and can there be a more validating apprenticeship than that?
“I’ve been relatively successful with the Stormers as a leader because the guys have followed me and helped me. A leader is only as strong as the rest of the team,” he said.
“I will rely on a lot of the senior guys to help me in this role. Although you don’t want every guy in the team wanting to make decisions on the field, I will also rely on those guys to advise me on big decisions. I will ultimately be the guy choosing whether we go for posts or kick for touch,” De Villiers added with disarming understatement of just how valuable his role is going to be.
Congrats from Smittie
@JohnSmit123 on Twitter
Congrats to Jean Dv taking over as captain,great leader and even better bloke!!! Now let's all get behind him and his team!!!