Jean de Villiers is likely to continue as the Springbok captain into 2013 after impressing Heyneke Meyer with both his leadership and ambassadorial skills during a difficult first season for the new national coach.
When Meyer appointed De Villiers as the successor to John Smit for the first match of the season against England, it was just supposed to be an interim appointment until he got to know De Villiers and the other players better and then, in his words, make a more informed decision on the captain going forward.
There were stages of the international season where De Villiers was a bit short of his best and there was speculation before the start of this tour that it would be as much a test of the captain’s right to continue into next season as it was to be new flyhalf Patrick Lambie’s.
But De Villiers played well on the end of year tour and his leadership skills also came to the fore when he rallied his young team through a couple of difficult situations in matches against Ireland and England.
Speaking at an informal get-together with some of the travelling media before the squad departed their London hotel at the end of an unbeaten overseas tour on Sunday, Meyer said he wanted De Villiers to carry on in his current role.
He will be telling the captain as much when the pair fly back to London next week for the 2015 World Cup draw.
“Provided Jean is able to carry on and he continues to play like he is at the moment, and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to, then I would like him to carry on as the captain next year,” said Meyer.
“Jean was new to me at the start of the year in the sense that I had not worked with him before. I had only coached against him. But I went with him as the leader and it has worked out really well.
“He has done a great job in creating the culture of the team and he was one of the few players, there being two others, who played every test match this year. “He has proved himself to be a really good captain and he has been a great help to me during the course of the year, particularly with the way he has worked with the youngsters. “He is also an unbelievable ambassador for his country. He really is very good when talking to the media and communicating with the public, and he is a true leader in every sense. He was leading a young team, and sometimes the pressure of being an experienced player in a young team can create problems, but not with Jean.”
De Villiers is of course now the wrong side of 30, so it is debatable whether he will be around for the World Cup that Meyer’s team have in their sights for three years from now.
PLAYER MANAGEMENT VITAL
However Meyer believes good management of De Villiers could prolong his career.
“There is no doubt that Jean does need to be managed. I can’t remember what the statistics were, but before he had to pull out of the Currie Cup semifinal because of injury he had played an unbelievable number of consecutive matches, and he played a full 80 minutes in all those games.
“In the end I think it was a good thing for us that he missed out on the last two weeks of the Currie Cup.
“As some of you have written, it is probably not a coincidence that for the second consecutive year a young side ended up winning the Currie Cup.
“The demands of the long season are just so much, and I was really fearful that the game against England was going to be a match too many for us. I have never seen players looking as tired as the players have over this past week.”
Prop Jannie du Plessis, who after getting the wrong end of referee Nigel Owens’s rather confused blowing at the scrums pulled out of the game with an injury at the halfway point, played no fewer than 36 games this year, something that Meyer believes was just too many.
“We are going to have to find a way to manage our players better and I am going to try to find a way to do that,” said Meyer.
The good news for Meyer though is that Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was already talking seriously at the end of last season of managing De Villiers during the Super Rugby season, and it is understood he may be rested for quite a few games.
Apart from the emergence of someone like Damian de Allende as a young No 12 of quality, the Stormers are also intending giving Peter Grant more game time as an inside centre in 2013 as Elton Jantjies will be linking up with them as a flyhalf.
This could have another positive spin-off for both Meyer and De Villiers in that the Bok captain might then also be afforded game time at outside centre.
He played No 13 in the first part of the season before Frans Steyn was injured. Steyn is likely to slot in again at inside centre when he has recovered from injury, and De Villiers may find himself moving back into the outside channel.