Springbok captain Jean de Villiers has done a good job of leading a depleted side.

IT’S been a difficult first season in charge for Heyneke Meyer, but it’s been just as challenging for Jean de Villiers.

Thrust into the role rather unexpectedly when other contenders for the job fell by the wayside, the Western Province man has done brilliantly as team leader, even if the results have not quite been as satisfying. He earned his 84th cap on Saturday, becoming the fifth highest capped Bok, with Meyer saying, “I’m very chuffed for Jean. He took over the captaincy in a challenging year and has been a rock in our team.

“The fact that he has played in every Test this season and finished all of them, is testimony to his amazing resilience and work ethic. He’s been the glue that has kept our team together and for that, I salute him.”

Things haven’t gone quite according to plan this season, but it was always going to be a big test for all in 2012, especially De Villiers and Meyer, after so many key players retired or moved abroad at the end of last season, while the injury toll has also had a huge impact on the team.

The Springbok skipper though is upbeat about the future of the Boks and believes 2013 could be great year for the side.

“If you take into account all the injuries and the guys who’re not here ... think of the side we could field if everyone was available,” said De Villiers ahead of Saturday’s Test against England.

“What’s so encouraging is that so many youngsters, but actually all the guys who’ve come in this year, have taken their chance. Now, suddenly the coach has a problem in 2013. It’s not so much a case of who he is going to pick, but rather who does he leave out? It’s a great position for Bok rugby to be in.”

Having so much depth, a genuinely large pool of players with loads of experience, is one of the reasons why De Villiers believes the New Zealand All Blacks are so far ahead of everyone else in the game right now.

“There is no doubt it’s one of the reasons why the gap between them and the rest is so big. They’re a special team ... but that’s come about because they have the experience and because they’ve been together for so long. It shows what a difference it makes ... getting there takes time.”

But as good as the All Blacks are, the Boks, without several key players and with a much younger squad, almost beat them on their own patch, in Dunedin, earlier this year. Only poor goal-kicking cost the Boks a famous victory.

“Sure, we were outplayed by New Zealand in Soweto, but we came close in Dunedin and that shows we’re slowly getting there.

“Those wins will come when we have the experience, like we used to. We’ve often talked about soft moments costing us this season ... and that’s down to a lack of experience in certain positions and as a team. But you have to go through those moments to learn, to gain the experience that will help you in years to come.

“You have to make mistakes to learn ... you’ve got to go through the rough patches.”

Perhaps the whole of 2012 should be deemed the Boks’ rough patch. Not quite awful, but also far from satisfying, this year has been one giant learning curve for many of the players and Meyer. De Villiers though is excited about what lies ahead.

“What is really pleasing is to see how guys like Eben (Etzebeth) and Marcell (Coetzee), both just 21 years old, have grown and matured over the course of this year. It’s been fantastic to see the transformation they’ve gone through ... how they were when they came into the squad at the start of the June England series and how they are now,” said De Villiers.

“They’re comfortable in the team now and they’re taking on more and more responsibility ... especially on game day. These guys have really matured over one season ... and that’s pleasing and good for the future.” Indeed. The Boks may not be at the level everyone expects them to be at, but in 12 months from now they might just be talked about in the same way as the All Blacks. – Sunday Tribune