New Div in the ranks
Shifting from inside to outside centre will probably prolong De Villiers' international career, writes Liam Del Carme
BEING told he'd have the captain's armband for only the England series before his suitability for the job will be weighed up hardly induced insecurity in Jean de Villiers.
After all, he's learnt the hard way to fix his gaze well inside the horizon. Torn ligaments (or biceps) heal with time, but missing World Cups or having your debut curtailed can douse your expectations of a good prognosis.
De Villiers left the field with a serious injury in the opening minutes of his debut against France in Marseille in 2002 as the Springboks crashed to a record defeat.
He was World Cup-bound in 2003 before serious injury ruled him out during a warm-up game. In the 2007 World Cup, injury again played its cruel hand in the Springboks' opening game.
By he has learnt to swallow bitter pills.
"All I can do is do my best and hope things work out," he said about only being given the captaincy for this series.
"I'm not even looking beyond the first test," he shrugged.
Pressed on the subject, De Villiers relents. "I would love to win this series and as a team you always want to get South Africa to the No1 spot in the world," he said with more candour.
The captain's mantle rests easy on his broad shoulders. His retiring ways make De Villiers universally liked, while his blood for the cause and instincts make him a respected figure on the field.
If he needs to crack the whip, he'll do so with a smile. "I'm an easy-going guy and that will come through in the way I lead. There will come a time when you have to raise your voice, but they know this and they'll have to take this. Striking a balance is key."
Injury removed him from the Springbok starting line-up at the World Cup last year, before Frans Steyn's solid performances ruled out his quick restoration to the No12 jersey.
Steyn is still in 12 and De Villiers has had to move one up. "I'm at that stage of my career now where I want to play where I get selected. At one stage I had to settle in one position to get a permanent spot in the national team.
"I thought 12 was it, but I'm a bit older now and you take a lot of contact at 12. Maybe the shift to 13 can extend my career. When I get back to the Stormers they have to decide where they want to play me.
"It's not a totally different position for me. I made my debut at 13 and I've played there for my franchise, even if I'm wearing 12. For me it's a pretty easy switch.
"I think 13 is the most difficult place to defend. You have to make decisions on defence but it's a challenge I'm looking forward to."
If De Villiers embraced the start of the season with renewed vigour so, too, have the other elder statesmen who fell short at last year's World Cup.
"We all hurt after the World Cup. We had a chat about it the night after the defeat. The guys spoke from the heart and got things off their chest. That belongs to the past. When the guys got together this week they knew they had another chance and that they've got a new lease on life.
"I want to give everything and what will be will be. It will be great if I get the job afterwards but if I don't, so be it. Hopefully I'll still be good enough to remain in the team. The next captain will get my support."