Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer says he is still mulling over his captaincy options following the confirmation that regular skipper Jean de Villiers will not be available for the June internationals.
However, Meyer confirmed that whoever he does appoint for the four matches to be played at the start of the season will be an interim captain only as there is no prospect of De Villiers being replaced regardless of how the Boks may fair in his absence.
“I don’t want to change too much as Jean will be back and will be my captain for the rest of the year, and I have told him that,” said Meyer after a training session at Northwood College in Durban North on Monday afternoon.
“I don’t want to go in a different direction now. We have the culture right, and Jean as leader is an intrinsic part of that. I will only be appointing an interim captain until Jean is ready to return, which will be in the Rugby Championship.
“He is not out for long so it won’t be a long-term captaincy appointment. If it was long term it would be different, but it isn’t so there are a few things to take into consideration.”
One of the aspects that Meyer will be thinking about is the ambition of the player who takes the job in De Villiers’s absence. He would be reluctant to choose a player who might be put out if he does well as the Bok leader in June and is then not considered for the captaincy when De Villiers returns in August for the Rugby Championship.
Meyer said he had spent much of the first day of the training camp “putting out fires” and hadn’t given the issue enough thought yet to really commit himself and said that the leadership question wasn’t as problematic for him as it would have been had De Villiers been injured earlier in his coaching tenure. De Villiers has led the team in every Bok test since Meyer took over.
“It was a huge, huge setback for me that Jean has been ruled out as he is an unbelievable human being, an unbelievable captain and also an unbelievable player, as can be gauged from the fact that he was last year’s South African Player of the Year.
“What I have to decide now is whether I look to the future in appointing the interim captain, which means I look at what comes after next year’s World Cup, when it is likely that Jean will have retired. Or do I go for the guys who have been there before as Bok captain and thus I go for stability?
“What I can say is that I am a lot less worried about the leadership now than I was before I took over the Bok job. We have guys like Bismarck (du Plessis) and Adriaan (Strauss) who have been doing well as Super Rugby captains, particularly Bismarck with the Sharks. There is also Victor Matfield who has huge experience and been the Bok captain before.
“Then we have Francois Louw, who really impresses me with his captaincy potential and has been a great leader at Bath. It is a great pity that Francois is not based in South Africa as if he was I would most likely go for him. Schalk Burger has been a captain that has impressed me in the past, and I have been impressed with Duane Vermeulen when he has led the Stormers in a few games this season.
“So there are seven or eight players who can probably do the job. But I am honestly not sure at this stage. I have thought of all the options but I haven’t made my decision yet. I also want to speak to the senior players and possibly some of the management guys too. It needs to be a decision made in consultation.”
Meyer ruled out the prospect of him just choosing the captain on a game by game basis.
“The guys need the certainty of knowing who the captain is and it will be too confusing for them if the captain changes on a weekly basis,” said Meyer.
That consideration could well count against the chances of one of the two hookers, Du Plessis or Strauss, getting the interim job.
They have both served as vice-captains in the past, so it is logical to assume that they would be front-runners, but Meyer is likely to rotate the selection at hooker in the June internationals.
“You need to go for someone who is an extension of yourself on the field and who knows exactly what you want. I have to be honest and admit I was a little worried about Jean in the beginning, but now we have reached a point where he does every call exactly like I want it. I can’t tell you how highly I rate Jean as a captain. I have worked with several captains but he is in a different league.”