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Bok captain: All the candidates

One of the biggest decisions that Heyneke Meyer will have to make is who to appoint as Springbok captain. We take a look at the candidates.

There has been plenty of speculation on the topic in recent times, with whispers of players coming back from overseas clubs, and even retirement some of the theories being bandied about.

While there is still plenty of rugby to be played until Meyer finally makes that call, we have taken a look at all of the possibilities, profiling all of the eligible contestants.

We have been through each of the South African Super Rugby franchises, starting with the captain of each Super Rugby team and including all of the ‘darkhorses’ who have some sort of shot at the job.

Right then, our Springbok captaincy contenders:

Stormers:

There are two obvious candidates from the Stormers, both fine men, both personable and popular, both leaders – Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers, both the sons of father who played top rugby, both first-choice Springboks. Both are players who are unselfish enough to put the needs of the team first.

Schalk Burger: The Stormers captain is exceptionally competitive on the field and exceptionally friendly off it. Nobody is more committed than Schalk Burger. At 28 he is old enough and young enough for the captaincy and has had experience of it. To his credit he is the one Springbok in years who has developed his own play, adding skills to his strength and bravery. His public relations will be excellent, a player respected and admired throughout the rugby world. His captaincy on the field is quiet but effective. Perhaps the only drawback is an occasional tempestuous outburst.

Outsider: Jean de Villiers is 30 and well respected amongst the players, he is still the fastest player amongst fast players in the Stormers set-up, the organiser of the best defence in Super Rugby. He is a player that other players rally to.

Lions:

Josh Strauss: The classic ‘Cinderella’ story – he hardly played for the first team of his school (Paul Roos), had a brief stint in France and was also not always a regular for Maties in the Varsity Cup. But the Lions’ Prince Charming, John Mitchell, spotted him and eventually named him captain ahead of two other regulars – Franco van der Merwe and Doppies la Grange. The rest, as they say is history – one Currie Cup Final later and along with his beard he is now one of SA rugby’s poster-boys. His biggest drawback is that he is not guaranteed a starting place in the Bok team.

Outsider(s): The Lions camp is littered with quality captains – starting with Wikus van Heerden (who has plenty of leadership experience as a long-time captain of the Lions), Franco van der Merwe and Doppies la Grange. However, none of them are considered serious contenders for a regular starting place in the national team.

Bulls:

Pierre Spies: He has many detractors as a player and even more as a captain. But then again, John Smit was never universally popular and is without doubt one of the greatest Bok captains of all time. With Heyneke Meyer as coach, Spies is more than just an outside bet to start at No.8 for the Boks. Spies is a player with the potential for excellence and the willpower to achieve it. This has been evident throughout his life from a very young age – a prime example is the way he bounced back from a near fatal lung condition that ruled him out of the 2007 World Cup. He is also highly rated as a leader by his peers… just as John Smit was.

Outsider: It would be unfair to label Chiliboy Ralepelle a ‘darkhorse’ (and no, it has nothing to do with the possibility that it could be perceived as insensitive) because not only has he already captained the Boks, but he has for a very long time been considered a very real captaincy candidate. His biggest problem remains securing a regular starting spot, but his leadership credentials are beyond doubt.

Cheetahs:

Adriaan Strauss: The stocky Cheetahs hooker is a born leader capable of bringing the ‘gees’ out of his players by charging in from the front to set a high benchmark. While his character is befitting of a quality leader, the fact remains that he is down in the pecking order behind Bismarck du Plessis and Chiliboy Ralepelle to be the first-choice Springbok rake. 

Outsider: Star flank Juan Smith is in the Gary Teichmann mould as a skipper – inspiring his team through his actions on the field rather than through passionate team speeches. While being a man of few words at times, when Smith speaks people listen. The 30-year-old is a certain starter in the Bok side, but there are question marks about his fitness following his serious Achilles Tendon injury which kept him out of the 2011 World Cup. If Smith is in good health and anywhere near his best form, then he will be a serious contender to take up the mantle of Bok captain.

Sharks:

Keegan Daniel: The Sharks captain is a committed competitor who does his best to lead by example, but it is highly unlikely that he will ever captain the Springboks. The reality is that Daniel will have to play the best rugby of his career to even make the team such is the depth at loose forward in South Africa. He is also new to the captaincy, with just last year’s Currie Cup campaign under his belt in terms of experience, and was not assertive enough in his debut season at the helm, often hesitating when an important tactical decision had to be made.

Outsider: New Sharks vice-captain Bismarck du Plessis is a forward who will (finally) be an automatic selection in his position and his physical approach makes him the heart and soul of any team he represents. However, his fiery nature that makes him such a tough customer can also see him lose his composure, which casts some doubt on his ability to keep his cool as a leader.

Alternative options:

Will Heyneke Meyer do what Peter de Villiers did and go overseas to draw a player back to lead the Springboks? De Villiers went to France to fetch John Smit? There are two possibles for Meyer to seek out – Fourie du Preez in Japan and Victor Matfield in retirement, both Meyer disciples.

But Matfield is 34 and bound to be a short-term appointment. Fourie is 29, a great rugby brain but a body which has let him down of late. He is playing ‘soft’ rugby in Japan but when he played hard rugby last year he was not the great player he once was – the best rugby player in the world when at the top of his game.

He is not an outgoing personality in the way Matfield is and no longer a first-choice player. Also, a Du Preez-Hougaard selection situation could be a replication of the Smit-Bismarck du Plessis one.

And big Vic? He is certainly experienced enough and charismatic enough, a one-of-a-kind player who redefined lock play, and a player to look up to. The 2011 World Cup may put big question marks against the names of Matfield and Fourie. To what extent were they contributors to Springbok failure? They were great contributors to Springbok success in 2007, but 2011 was a flop.

A player who captains a rugby club with strong traditions is Bok flank François Louw who is currently captaining English club Bath. But he is unlikely to be a first-choice Springboks and has little experience of captaincy – wonderfully wholehearted, committed, brave and skilled player that he is.

Lock Johann Muller is the only player to have captained the Springboks in a Test match, who is still available for international selection. (Chiliboy Ralepelle has captained the Boks, but never in a Test match.) Muller has all the captaincy credentials to tick the boxes, with experience as skipper of both the Sharks and Ulster, where he has made a massive impact. However, whether or not the 31-year-old will make the starting XV is another question entirely. As a foreign-based player he is already off to a bad start, and Heyneke Meyer could be more interested in investing in some younger men in the second row.

Our captaincy verdicts:
Jan de Koning:
Pierre Spies
Paul Dobson: Schalk Burger
Tim Hancox: Juan Smith
Michael de Vries: Schalk Burger

* Who would your choice be as the new Springbok captain? Let us know below!

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