Jean not just a 'crash-test dummy'
INSIDE THE SPRINGBOK CAMP: Jean de Villiers may be under an injury cloud, but if he is cleared to play it will be at No.12.
Jean de Villiers may be under an injury cloud, but if he is cleared to play it will be at No.12.
That, in short, is the view of Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer, as South Africa stepped up their preparations for their opening match of the Rugby Championship - against Argentina in Pretoria next Saturday, August 16.
De Villiers, who is returning from a knee injury he sustained during Super Rugby in May, may not feature against the Pumas next week.
"We'll only know at a later stage if Jean will be ready to face Argentina in Pretoria," Meyer said, adding that they will give him "as much time as possible" to recover.
If he does play at Loftus Versfeld, or even going ahead, he will wear No.12 on his back.
The Bok mentor revealed that only in exceptional circumstances will they look at him as a No.13.
"I still believe his best position is No.12," the coach said.
"Jan [Serfontein] has been superb in the June Tests, but it is a pity he hasn't played at No.13 and that Damian hasn't played much at No.13 - where he only played at school and lower [provincial] levels.
"With JP [Pietersen] and Jaque Fourie [the other specialist outside centres in the mix] out we are under pressure at No.13."
Meyer said the key would be to find the right combination.
"I always felt Damian [de Allende] can be a brilliant player, we just have to put him in the right position," he said.
The Bok coach added that there are a number of reasons why De Villiers is his preferred choice at inside centre.
The main reason is that as captain, at No.12, he organises most of the play.
However, it is also the skills that he brings to the game - despite the perception among some so-called pundits that he is just a 'crash-test dummy'.
"What makes him such a brilliant No.12, probably the best in the world last year, that while he can crash the ball up, he also has brilliant hands that can get the ball away," Meyer said.
"The days are long gone where we are just going to crash the ball up and think we will overpower guys.
"They all [the teams] have very big backs and they are all very skilful.
"Believe it or not, I prefer a No.12 that can move the ball around and create space on the outside.
"We scored some brilliant tries last year - although he [De Villiers] can play at No.13, and he can do a great job there.
"I just love him at inside centre because he has so many options - he is big and strong, but he also has unbelievable hands to get the ball away.
"We also want to play with width and beat the guys on the outside as well, instead of just crashing the ball up."
De Villiers enjoyed a stand-out year in 2013 and was named South Africa's Player of the Year for his efforts.
However this season has seen injury plague him, as it has with so many others.
Yet with a Bok squad named that has no recognised No.13 - given that previous regulars JJ Engelbrecht and Juan de Jongh have been axed from the squad - the Boks may well start De Allende at outside centre for the Argentinean Tests.
If De Villiers fails to recover in time, Serfontein will then slot in at inside centre in what will be the umpteenth new midfield combination since Meyer has taken over.