Nearly four years after last playing for the Boks, Juan de Jongh is set to receive an opportunity to revive his Test career, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Nelspruit.
De Jongh is expected to be named as a replacement for this Saturday’s Test against Argentina in Nelspruit, with the centre poised to make his first Springbok appearance since the 2012 end-of-year Test against England at Twickenham.
It’s been an interesting journey back into the Bok set-up for De Jongh, who was deemed surplus to requirements for the majority of Heyneke Meyer’s tenure, but has now been drafted straight back into the system by Allister Coetzee.
De Jongh was unavailable during the June series due to his commitments with the Springbok Sevens side, with the 28-year-old recently forming part of the Olympic squad that clinched the bronze medal in Rio.
Chatting to reporters in Nelspruit this week, De Jongh said his medal was safely locked away at home, and that his focus now was entirely on contributing to the Springbok cause as he looks to make up for lost time.
‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been with the Boks. I’ve been with the Stormers and recently with the SA Sevens side, and now I just want to work really hard to keep getting regular opportunities with the national team. That’s my whole focus.’
De Jongh earned 14 Bok caps between 2010 and 2012, and despite a barren spell at Test level over the last four years, he insists that he never lost faith in making a comeback to the Boks.
‘It was out of my control [missing out on selection under Meyer] … I don’t want to delve into the past, my only focus during that time was just to keep on working hard to give myself opportunities down the line, even if other people didn’t think the same way. I just had to stay positive and try to keep improving where I could. I don’t want any favours and I need to bring my A game now.’
The Stormers midfielder will provide cover at both 12 and 13 this Saturday, with Damian de Allende and Lionel Mapoe set to continue their centre partnership that first took shape during the June series against Ireland.
De Jongh said he was happy to be back in the Bok fold irrespective of what role he was asked to perform.
‘It’s really good to be working with Allister again, we formed a good relationship at the Stormers and Western Province. I just want to ensure I’m now focused and well prepared in this set-up. Hopefully I will get a chance to express myself and find a spot in the squad to stay for a long time.’
Although De Jongh has spent the better part of the last six months focusing on adjusting to sevens rugby, he said he didn’t expect to have too much trouble transitioning back to the 15-man game.
‘I'll need to get to grips with the technical and individual details now that I’m coming back to the Boks. Sevens is a different code, there are other things you learn there, but this is a different environment. So it’s important to put that behind me, gel in this team environment and grab this opportunity.’
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images