Jean de Villiers is set to end his professional rugby career overseas and not at a South African franchise, reports JON CARDINELLI in Newcastle.
De Villiers will never play for the Boks again. He will never play for a South African franchise or province again. His professional career in South Africa has officially come to an end.
The 34-year-old centre confirmed all of this at a press conference in Newcastle on Sunday. He spoke passionately about his 13 years and 109 Tests with the Boks. While he wore a brave face, he said he was still struggling to come to terms with the fact that he was no longer a Springbok.
De Villiers’s tenure ended in the aftermath of the Boks’ 46-6 win against Samoa. A trip to the hospital confirmed what the Bok medical team initially feared: De Villiers had fractured his jaw and would play no further part at the 2015 World Cup.
‘It happened early on in the game,’ De Villiers says, recalling the incident. ‘[Samoa fullback] Tim Nanai-Williams stepped inside and I moved my body into position to make the tackle. His shoulder ended up connecting with my jaw.
‘I didn’t feel too bad, but when I got up, Schalk Burger came over and asked if I was alright. He and Jesse Kriel were the closest to me when it happened. They said they had actually heard it crack. I started to feel that something was not right later on.’
De Villiers said that when he left the field at Villa Park on Saturday, he knew he was leaving the Test arena for the last time. The Boks then held a special ceremony to celebrate Adriaan Strauss’s 50th Test cap, but it wasn’t a particularly cheerful affair.
Later on, De Villiers and Burger, who have been best friends since their school days, sat in De Villiers’s room trying to make sense of it all. The conversation went on until around four in the morning.
‘We were talking about everything that we've been through over the past 13 years. I don’t know. Maybe Jean de Villiers and World Cups don’t go together,' he said, referring to his rotten run with injuries at the past four global tournaments.
‘Schalk and I were philosophising about what happened [over the past couple of weeks]. What is the perfect way to end your career? Is it possible to end your career in that manner? The reality is you don’t often get a choice.
‘Looking at it another way, I was still there after the loss to Japan. I got through what was the toughest week in my career, and bounced back with a win [against Samoa]. I’ll take that.’
Earlier this year, De Villiers made his comeback to professional rugby from a serious injury. A knee specialist had told him that the odds were against his returning before the World Cup. And yet, De Villiers managed to make a full recovery. Seven months of intense physical therapy and rehabilitation had paid off.
Unfortunately, fate dealt De Villiers a cruel hand, not once but twice, in the space of seven weeks. His knee held up, but he fractured the left and right side of his jaw during that period.
His World Cup is over, and at 34, he realises that he will not be able to contribute to the Boks in 2016 and beyond.
When SA Rugby magazine interviewed De Villiers earlier this year, he said that he was considering an offer from a Japanese club post the 2015 World Cup. However, going by what De Villiers said on Sunday, the South African centre may well finish up in England.
‘That’s the biggest fight I’ve been having in my own head. What now? I’m flying back to South Africa on Monday. I’m going to see a specialist, and will probably need to have an operation. But perhaps the biggest blow is an emotional one, to know it’s all over.
‘To be honest I haven’t planned too far ahead. It will be good to go home and see the family for a bit. I will have to think about it over the next couple of weeks. What I know is that I won’t play in South Africa again. I have a few options here in England. That decision will come at a later stage.’
Some felt that De Villiers should have retired in November 2014 after sustaining that car-crash knee injury in Cardiff. The man himself has no regrets on that front, and said it was the right call to keep pushing and hoping for a chance to win the 2015 World Cup.
‘That whole process was tough, but I’d do it all over again,’ De Villiers said. ‘In the end it just didn’t work out. You have to accept that this is the way it goes sometimes.
‘I'm glad I never gave up, though. I’m happy with my career and where I finished up. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would make it to 109 Tests. I never believed I’d be the second most capped captain of the Boks.
’I'm proud of what we as a team have built over the past four years. It's been great to see how youngsters like Eben Etzebeth, Handré Pollard, Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende have come through, and to know that I’ve played a small part in helping them grow. I’m really proud of this team and I only hope they will get the credit they deserve.'
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