Jean de Villiers has amazed many people with his recovery from a serious knee injury and more recently a broken jaw, but he says he gets inspiration from his fellow World Cup squad members.
“Injuries are definitely part of rugby, but it’s the way you come back and learn from those hardships that counts. For me, it’s been about a broken jaw and I felt like a teenager again with braces!
“But this is a great bunch of guys who all have a great story to tell. Some of the guys have been through so much – Schalk Burger who was fighting for his life two years ago, Schalk Brits, who ruptured the ACC ligament in his knee last year and was out for five months, Pieter-Steph du Toit and his injuries …
“So a lot has been said about my past at World Cups, but I’m more concerned with the future. I’m ready to give everything and I’m happy with where I’m at in my recovery. In two weeks I’ll be able to take contact and I’ll definitely be able to play the first game,” De Villiers said at the weekend announcement of the 31-man squad for the World Cup, which begins for South Africa on September 19 against Japan in Brighton.
The selection of De Villiers has not been popular with everyone, and Heyneke Meyer and his Springbok squad have been lambasted by many critics in recent weeks. Many of the naysayers have been opportunists with little involvement or passion for rugby, but former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers, who has a short memory when it comes to his own many shortcomings in the position, has had particularly harsh words which have no doubt hurt more than most.
“For me, it has been tough. You wait so long to play and then we lose to Argentina and I broke my jaw. A lot else happened that week, but I’ve seen how much this squad has grown over the last couple of weeks, we’ve pulled closer with the emotion of the guys being left out.
“For me, the criticism shows that people do care about the Springboks. We’re open to criticism if it comes from a position of wanting the Springboks to do well. If nobody was interested in the Springboks, we’d be in trouble.
“There will be criticism and if it adds value then we’ll take that in the right light and we can only be stronger for it. If nobody cares, well we don’t want to be in that position,” captain De Villiers said.
Meyer himself showed the height of diplomacy when he was asked about former coach De Villiers, although there was perhaps a subtle put-down in his response.
“I truly respect Peter, he’s an awesome coach and human being and he did a lot for South African rugby. He’s a great diplomat and he made a great difference in people’s lives. I wish him all the best in future because we need people at grassroots level,” Meyer said with what sounded distinctly like sincerity.