Two of our team members pick their No 12 for the SARugbymag.co.za Fans' World XV.
JEAN DE VILLIERS
The amount of criticism Jean de Villiers has taken in the last two seasons has been ridiculous. However, he has consistently refused to react in the press, instead making his rebuttal through consistently excellent performances.
De Villiers enjoyed a strong Super Rugby campaign despite the Stormers struggling, then excelled in the Rugby Championship, finishing among the top players in numerous key performance indicators. Ma'a Nonu simply couldn't match De Villiers across those areas, and only a one-eyed New Zealander (read Graham Henry) would suggest he had performed better than the Springboks' skipper.
That De Villiers, 32, has been able to sustain the level of performance he has, despite the pressure accompanying captaincy, his advancing age and terrible management (he has far exceeded the recommended playing time over each of the last two season), tells of his class.
There isn't a facet of play in which he is weak, and he certainly doesn't disappear (performance-wise) for weeks on end – as Nonu has the propensity to do. De Villiers is the real deal, and will be remembered as the greatest inside centre to play for the Springboks, and one of the best the game has ever seen.
Nonu had a poor campaign for the underperforming Highlanders in 2013 but regained his best form when he pulled on the All Blacks jersey.
The 31-year-old is frustrated by criticism that he does not try at Super Rugby level, and was close to signing a short-term deal with a French club when it looked as if no New Zealand franchise wanted him for 2014. The Blues, though, eventually offered him a contract and it's now up to him to prove the critics wrong.
Nonu, though, has nothing to prove at Test level. He had an excellent 2013 for the All Blacks, prompting former national coach Graham Henry to say that he had 'never seen him play better'. Henry said Nonu had added subtle short passes and a short kicking game to his repertoire and is the world's best inside centre 'by a considerable margin'.
I wouldn't say Nonu is considerably better than De Villiers, but he is better and gets the No 12 jersey in my World XV.
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