That same passion has been driving his rehab from a knee injury that kept him out of the Incoming Tours in June and, although he has not played a match since May 3, De Villiers is confident that he won’t have to miss any more Tests as the Springboks head into the Rugby Championship.
“The knee is good, it’s coming on nicely and I’ve been running for the last couple of weeks. It’s improved a lot and I had a full session yesterday [Tuesday], and it’s looking better than I thought it would, there’s no swelling.
“I’ve taken contact and my fitness is good because I’ve been doing lots of cardio. It’s now just a question of getting confidence back in my knee and then I’ll be 100%,” De Villiers said in midweek.
“But it’s never nice sitting on the side. I’m at the end of my career, I realise that’s pretty close, and I want to make whatever’s left of my rugby career as good as possible. You want to make sure you’ve given it your best shot when you hang up your boots.
“If this is my last 12 months with the Springboks then I want to make it great. It’s fantastic to be a part of such a great squad with such great talent and I’m very proud to be a leader in it.
“I’m going to make sure I enjoy the journey and the cherry on top will be the World Cup next year. Your injuries just make you appreciate your time in this game even more,” the father of two daughters said.
While the presence of so many veterans – Bakkies Botha, De Villiers, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis, Bryan Habana, Victor Matfield, Ruan Pienaar, Gurthro Steenkamp and Juan Smith were all involved in the 2007 World Cup triumph – curdles the breakfast milk of some Springbok fans, the captain insists that the presence of such seasoned internationals is a great strength.
“It’s very exciting to have such good experience and young guys with exceptional talent putting pressure on them for their places. It’s a good balance for us and you see how guys like Handre Pollard and Jan Serfontein played unbelievably well when they started in the incoming Tests.
“We’re in the ideal position to bring youngsters in … look at Lood de Jager playing with Victor Matfield. He knows that he has that experience next to him and that’s why guys like Juan Smith also add value. They’ve been through it all, they can tell the youngsters to ‘do it like this’.
“It speeds up the process of making inexperienced players experienced,” De Villiers pointed out.
South Africa’s most capped centre said the return of Toulon-based loose forward Smith, who has not played a Test since the end of 2010 due to what many felt was a career-ending achilles tendon injury, was particularly inspiring.
“Juan Smith – what a story! His career was ended prematurely and I remember him handing out our jerseys in Nelspruit last year. You could see the determination still in him, that he felt he still had a lot to give.
“He’s kept that hunger and he had a lot to prove even though many people had written him off. But he’s played wonderful rugby for Toulon and he’s a great player and person, with a great story to tell.
“He’s going to bring a lot of energy and put some of the youngsters in their place too!”