Jean de Villiers believes South Africa have the players that put the Springboks at the top of the rankings.
Intense competition for places this year, especially considering the infusion of several fit-again players, will aid the Springboks’ quest to return to No 1 on the world ladder, says Jean de Villiers.
INTERVIEW: Jean de Villiers – Part 1
The national captain was speaking during an exclusive interview with Sport24 this week, in a brief break from Super Rugby pre-season training with the Stormers in the Overberg region.
He also addressed such issues as the restoration of his partnership at centre late last year with Jaque Fourie, Victor Matfield’s planned comeback and his working relationship with coach Heyneke Meyer.
Here is the second and final instalment of the chat …
You have spoken about how you have managed to handle a very heavy personal load in the last two years or so … but surely a stronger element of ‘rotation’ is necessary for you in 2014?
Obviously you have to take circumstances into account with these things; you’re getting paid to do a job, just like in any other situation. When you think of it, where do you really get the luxury in this world of being told “you’ve worked too hard … go take a couple of weeks off”? On the one hand you’ve got to think about squad circumstance and the like, and on the other side you do have to consider whether it’s wise to risk playing through niggles and injuries or take a bit of time out for the benefit of the bigger picture getting properly fit again rather than aggravating something and perhaps being laid low for two months. So you need a holistic approach on that, and hopefully make right decisions.
But with a young centre like Damian de Allende coming through for the Stormers, perhaps there will be an opportunity here and there for you get a break, in the national interest, during Super Rugby?
Yes, it makes it much easier when you’ve got a guy so close to starting, and pushing you from a team selection point of view anyway. It keeps it healthy within the squad, and me on my toes. But I’ll say it again: I prefer being on the pitch than not! Again, it’s about being clever, and realising the age I’m at: if I am to make World Cup year (2015) some correct decisions will be needed along the way.
Frans Steyn is fit again, offering Bok midfield credentials, although you are perhaps the one better able to adapt to No 13 … would you be prepared to revisit that jersey if it comes to that?
Ja, again I can say I’m at that stage where I want to play as many games as I can for the Springboks, while I am still good enough … whether that be at 12 or 13. I think my days are past playing on the wing now! You do what is best for the team, though obviously I would love to close my career some time playing in my preferred position (inside centre).
Would you agree that you gradually grew as a combination again when you were reunited with Jaque Fourie on the Bok end-of-year tour, perhaps after one or two cobwebs were evident?
Yeah, there were one or two instances in that Wales game in Cardiff where defensively one of us was probably in Africa and one in Asia, if you like. But he’s a great player and let’s not forget that he basically won, or settled, that game for us (with a clever offload to Fourie du Preez for a late try – Sport24) through a great chase and quick hands for the set-up. He’ll remain a world-class player in my view, and I’ll always feel comfortable operating alongside him.
There’s just something special about him that can never be grabbed away. For me he still put in good performances; maybe expectations were just set too high initially, knowing his (excellent reputation).
Can it really be said that you and Heyneke Meyer are on the same page as the coach-captain combination for South Africa?
Very much so, I believe we’ve genuinely grown in that regard. Our views on rugby are very much the same. I respect him as a person and even off the field we have a very good relationship. We are very open with each other about how we feel, and how we want to go forward.
I know where I stand, and what is expected of me. He’s also made it very clear to me and everyone else that things will always be performance-based, in selection terms. I am certainly not guaranteed a place in the team. Yes, he has appointed me as captain again, but I have to put in the performances or I won’t be in that green jersey anymore.
Would you welcome it if a senior trooper like Victor Matfield clawed his way back to international standard in his reported comeback?
It will definitely help my cause because I might not be oldest guy in the team anymore! You know, Victor was a world-class player and if he puts his mind to it and decides he wants to play again then I’m sure he will make a success of it. From a captaincy point of view, if you get that sort of experience back in the squad it does make things much easier. When a guy like Fourie (du Preez) came back, for example, it helped me a lot. Whatever decision Victor makes (comeback-wise), I will back.
Has anything special changed strategically to suddenly make the Boks a consistently winning side in European winter conditions?
I think the structures that were put together when this team first got together in 2012 … we are now reaping the rewards from them. Everyone is comfortable within those structures and we have been able to evolve our game: work on our attack, work on the breakdown. I’d say we are now playing quite an attractive brand of rugby without giving away anything on defence, bar perhaps the All Back game in Jo’burg which presented very different circumstances at the time anyway. The trick is to keep progressing – rugby’s a funny game and you have to keep doing that all the time, tweaking the little things that can make a huge difference.
Speaking of the All Blacks, it’s the one ‘unticked box’ for your team … do you think in hindsight you might have knocked them over on that Highveld occasion had the bonus point not been an issue?
Look, we might have … but the fact remains we didn’t. That’s our goal this year: our goal is to get back to No 1 and for that to happen we need to start actually beating New Zealand. Easier said than done, but we believe we’re a team getting better and better and that we have the personnel to do it.
I mean, you take everything you’ve got already, and you add guys coming back from injury: Frans Steyn, Schalk Burger, Johan Goosen, Jaco Taute, Jaque back in the mix, a guy like Victor maybe coming back. All those names make you realise you don’t want to miss out on anything! Don’t forget the existing guys … take someone like Jannie (du Plessis) who has been awesome on and off the field, and aided me a lot, and then in his slot you have guys like Frans (Malherbe) and Coenie (Oosthuizen) and Lourens (Adriaanse) who got his first cap coming through.
It’s looking good, and it’s just about putting it together on the field. We definitely have the players …