South Africa captain Jean de Villiers says he is very proud to skipper a “special bunch of guys” into battle against Japan in their opening World Cup match on Saturday.
The 34-year-old de Villiers, who has 107 caps despite a litany of injuries, is seeking a record third world title for the Springboks and make up for his personal disappointment at missing the 2007 victory when he was injured in the opening pool game.
The elegant centre, one of several survivors from 2007, goes into the game under pressure. His performance in South Africa’s first defeat by Argentina in Durban in August was labelled by one commentator as that of a ‘carthorse’. To add insult to injury his jaw was broken.
However, De Villiers – who had only just returned from a serious knee injury he suffered last November – preferred to pay tribute to the team he is leading.
“I am very proud to be the captain of a special bunch of guys. Not only are they special as players but they are also good people.
“It is great to go into battle with guys you enjoy spending time with.
“All of the 31 players in the squad appreciate that not everyone is going to get a game at the World Cup but contribute nevertheless to the atmosphere.
“I am very excited about the challenge, I know it will be a fierce challenge but it is all about being able to do the country proud when you put on the (Springbok) green jersey.”
De Villiers, whose Test career got off to disastrous start when he suffered a serious knee injury minutes into his first appearance against France in November 2002, said the performance would count more than the final scoreline against a side that has not won a game at the World Cup since the 1991 edition.
“We have been tweaking details since we got here, as the bulk of the work was done in South Africa as it always is before World Cups, but it would be foolish for me to publicise what they are,” said De Villiers.
“We’re not going to put a score on it (the result on Saturday) but the first thing is to tick those boxes of the things we have been doing and need to repeat out on the pitch and reap the rewards of our work.”
Fellow veteran prop Jannie du Plessis — whose brother Bismarck will line up alongside him at hooker — refused to rise to remarks made by Japan’s Australian coach Eddie Jones that he talked more than he scrummaged these days.
“He’s a very astute coach and I learnt a lot from him (Jones was a member of the 2007 side’s coaching staff),” said Du Plessis.
“Regardless of what people say I want to contribute to a good team perfomance.”