Jean de Villiers
There is going to be a lot of pressure on Jean de Villiers on Saturday – not only is he leading the Springboks in a test match for the first time, he will also be switching from his usual position of inside centre to outside centre.
The team for the first test against England at Kings Park is only to be named later on Wednesday, but the way the Boks ran in their open session at Northwood College on Monday confirmed what everyone knew already: Frans Steyn will play at No 12, and be charged with the task of using his kicking game and his bulk to get the Boks in behind the opposition forwards, with De Villiers playing off him.
Although he started his international career on the wing, and has played some of his rugby in the No 13 jersey, the bulk of De Villiers’s rugby for the Boks has been as a No 12. So an adjustment is required, and with De Villiers feeling the pressure of leading his country for the first time, the Kings Park game could be a challenging one, particularly as there have been some experts who have questioned whether his defence will be good enough in the outside channel.
But Springbok backline coach Ricardo Loubscher does not share the reservations, and he feels that De Villiers will have no problem making the adjustment.
“Jean is an experienced player who has played outside centre before so if he is asked to play there against England I have no doubt that he will be comfortable with the switch,” said Loubsher.
“Jean has great leadership ability, and I have been very impressed with him. We have a certain philosophy we believe we would like to play. It conforms to the old cliché that you have to earn the right to go wide. Basically it means we have to have guys who finish our moves once we are on top. Jean has been good so far in training and I am sure he is the type (of outside centre) we are looking for.
“I prefer to have a player like Jean at outside centre with a big strong player inside him who can get across the advantage line. Jean is the best decision-maker around and he will be awesome to have playing off someone like Frans Steyn once the gainline has been breached.”
Steyn has arrived back from France looking a lot trimmer and better conditioned than he has when returning from France in previous seasons.
“Frans has been awesome in our training sessions. Having him standing next to Morne Steyn in the crucial No 10/No 12 axis is going to be great for us. Frans has the bulk and the running skills to get us across the gainline, but as you know he has also played flyhalf. Having two guys who have played flyhalf playing together is every coach’s dream as they then bring so many strengths in terms of both decision-making and their kicking game.
“I think it is in our kicking game that we have a definite edge (over England). We have great kickers and really good chasers and I think that is an area where we can put a lot of pressure on them. We haven’t had a lot of time to prepare and we have a relatively new team but if you look at the side we still have a lot of guys who have played in World Cups. Those experienced players will play a big role and we must play to our strengths.”