KB: There’s been a lot of talk about the Springbok backline and a lack of spark. Do you think changes are necessary and will Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute make a difference?
JdV: The guys who’ve been added will definitely bring some youthful enthusiasm. Whenever someone is called up for the first time, they always bring some good energy with them, so it’s a great thing to have some new faces. If they get the opportunity to play, then I’m sure they’ll cherish it. Whenever there’s competition, it’s healthy and it brings the best out of the other players. Especially Jaco Taute, he can play centre or fullback, so he brings a lot of utility, he’s a quality player and I’m sure he’s good enough for Test rugby.
KB: You’ve formed a new partnership this year with Francois Steyn, how is it going? And are you happy at number 13 rather than your usual inside centre position?
JdV: Frans is such an unbelievably talented player and I believe the combination can still grow a lot. We’ve had sparks of brilliance, but I reckon we’re still only at 50-60% of our potential. I’m very happy at 13, there’s a bit more space and width out there and I think it will extend my career as there’s not as much traffic out there.
KB: How has Francois Steyn changed since his time in France with Racing Metro?
JdV: Without doubt he has matured a helluva lot and it definitely did him well. He’s such a talented guy and he’s already achieved so much at the age of 25. He made his Springbok debut aged 19, he won the World Cup at 20 and he already has more than 50 caps. He can still improve so much, but he clearly learnt a lot in France, you can see how he’s matured in his play and off the field. He’s now got much more of a decision-making and leadership role in the Springboks and he’s showing that on the field as well.
KB: The inexperienced pack surprised everyone by dominating the All Blacks in Dunedin. How happy were you after that performance?
JdV: I wasn’t surprised because the side selected had individuals who are very talented, they’re the best in their position and of course they’re going to add value. They showed that they are good enough there and hopefully we can build on that. You only get experience by playing.
KB: There was speculation that Bakkies Botha would be called up from Toulon. How close was he to selection and do you believe he has a role to play for the Springboks going forward?
JdV: I’m not involved with selection, although the coach will maybe consult with me from time to time, so I don’t know how close Bakkies was to selection. The situation is that we always see what’s available in South Africa first. Eben Etzebeth has come through and Flip van der Merwe showed against New Zealand that it’s time for him to stake a claim as well. He has all the talent and there’s Springbok blood flowing through him [His father Flippie was a 6ft5 prop who played six Tests between 1981 and 1989]. If those guys are injured and Bakkies is available, then I’m sure he’d be considered.
KB: Is the squad feeling the pressure of criticism from outside and is there a sense that you have to win these last two Rugby Championship Tests at home?
JdV: Pressure will always be there. I put pressure on myself to perform and as a team we put pressure on ourselves because we want to win every game we’re in the Springbok jersey. But the fact is it is a rebuilding year, we’ve basically lost a whole team with Gurthro Steenkamp, Bismarck du Plessis, Bakkies Botha, Victor Matfield, Schalk Burger, Pierre Spies, Fourie du Preez, Jaque Fourie and JP Pietersen all unavailable. That’s a massive bunch of experience and we’ve lost it so quickly. That puts our results into perspective, although we need to learn from our mistakes. But we do feel it’s vital to win our next two games and we’re looking forward to the challenge.
KB: How does it feel to be criticised by former coaches and players that were close to the team, for instance Peter de Villiers saying there wasn’t enough transformation in the squad?
JdV: I’d rather not comment on previous coaches’ and players’ comments. Our focus is on working towards a goal and we’re sticking to it. It’s important that we listen to the right people and sometimes I’ve felt that the media criticism has been a bit harsh. We just need to win and then everyone will see that we’re on the right track. We believe that we are and we’ve taken a couple of steps in the right direction even though the results didn’t go our way.
KB: You must have been especially disappointed to lose to Australia in Perth after dominating that game for so long?
JdV: Both games overseas, we felt we should have won, but those are the margins of Test rugby. One or two mistakes and you find yourselves 10 points down, but that’s what we need to learn from. That’s where experience comes in and all those names we’ve lost. It reminds me of 2004, there are a lot of similarities. We came close in Christchurch and Perth and then we won the two games at home and ended up winning the Tri-Nations.
KB: You also made the All Blacks look very beatable. You must take a lot of confidence from that?
JdV: Exactly. We’re not just focused on the result. We were up against the best in the world – the World Cup winners – and we came close to beating them at home, so that was good for us. They will still probably go on to win the tournament, but stranger things have happened in sport. We’re still holding thumbs for our chances, but if we don’t win the title, we at least want to get two good wins to finish.
KB: How big a blow is it for the All Blacks that Sonny Bill Williams is not available?
JdV: He’s a quality player and he brought a lot of confidence and skill to their midfield, on an individual basis. But Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith have been a partnership that has served them well for several years, they were probably the outstanding centre combination in world rugby.
KB: What have Argentina brought to the competition?
JdV: They’ve showed that they’re going to be great for the competition. They bring a new feeling, a bit of freshness to the tournament. They’ve been really good, they’ve definitely shown that they belong and we’ll wait and see how New Zealand and Australia do over there.
KB: Is there any chance of you playing in France at some stage in the future?
JdV: Never say never! If a good offer comes … I’ve always said I’d love to play professional rugby in France, just to be a part of the culture and experience the passion for the game there.