Judging by his performance at a SuperSport networking luncheon this week, Jean de Villiers definitely has a future as a comedian and television personality, such was the brilliance of his timing and the sheer sense and empathy with which he spoke.
De Villiers has made his name of course with the superb timing he displays on attack and defence in the Springbok midfield and let’s hope the 34-year-old’s next major appearance on SuperSport is as captain of the World Cup squad in England.
Coach Heyneke Meyer is certainly hoping so and, whatever the haters say about taking “old-age” players to the World Cup, experience is the common thread that runs through every winner of that tournament and Meyer would be stupid to undo the last three years of preparation in order to choose flavour-of-the-month players now that the curtain is about to go up.
The one certainty about the 31-man World Cup squad that Meyer finally announces is that there are definitely going to be some very unlucky, excellent players missing out.
Unfortunately, De Villiers’ centre position is one of the areas where the Springboks are relative paupers.
Assuming that the captain will be fit (and he certainly thinks he will be), then his midfield partner is likely to be Jan Serfontein or Damian de Allende. Meyer has already said that he will be taking 18 forwards to the World Cup, so that leaves space for just 13 backs, three of which have to be scrumhalves – Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar and Francois Hougaard as a utility back.
Three flyhalves would also seem necessary with Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies and Handre Pollard, who can also provide centre cover, the frontrunners. Someone like fullback Jesse Kriel, because he can also play in midfield, could provide additional cover and, if there is a new cap in the squad then the Bulls prospect will probably by the man. If De Villiers doesn’t make it, then Lionel Mapoe will probably be next in line, especially since he can play outside centre, where the Springboks are particularly thin.
JP Pietersen, if he can regain his best form, obviously brings the ideal combination of experience and versatility, being able to play wing, fullback or outside centre.
Lock is the other worrying position with Eben Etzebeth and Victor Matfield the only contenders who are currently fit. Meyer said he favours a split of four locks and five loose forwards in the squad, with nine front-rowers compulsory, so Pieter-Steph du Toit, who can play flank as well, is a vital selection and Lood de Jager, if fit, or Teboho Mohoje will be the other second-rower .
But injuries could mean Meyer is forced to include uncapped players like Jacques du Plessis or Ruan Botha.
The coach is going to be given sleepless nights by the conundrum facing him at loose-forward. How do you choose five from the wealth of talent that is available?
The Springboks have been well-served by Francois Louw, Willem Alberts and Duane Vermuelen as a starting trio, so who backs them up?
Schalk Burger will probably be one of the two extra loosies by virtue of his experience and ability to play all three positions, which leaves the fifth back-row spot to be fought over by Marcell Coetzee, Mohoje, Warren Whiteley, Nizaam Carr, Arno Botha, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Kriel and Pierre Spies!
The incumbent Springbok front row of Tendai Mtawarira, Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis is going to be given a tremendous run for their money by Trevor Nyakane, Adriaan Strauss and Frans Malherbe, while the third complete front row required should be made up of Coenie Oosthuizen, Scarra Ntubeni and either Marcel van der Merwe, Julian Redelinghuys or Vincent Koch.
Probable Springbok World Cup squad – Willie le Roux, Jesse Kriel; Cornal Hendricks, Bryan Habana, Francois Hougaard; Jan Serfontein, Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende; Handre Pollard, Pat Lambie, Elton Jantjies; Fourie du Preez, Ruan Pienaar; Duane Vermuelen, Willem Alberts, Francois Louw, Schalk Burger, Marcell Coetzee; Victor Matfield, Eben Etzebeth, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Teboho Mohoje; Jannie du Plessis, Bismarck du Plessis, Tendai Mtawarira, Frans Malherbe, Adriaan Strauss, Trevor Nyakane, Marcel van der Merwe, Scarra Ntubeni, Coenie Oosthuizen.