Jean’s return to inspire Boks

Duane Vermeulen says Springbok captain Jean de Villiers's fightback from injury has been nothing short of inspiring. JON CARDINELLI reports.

A broken knee cap. Torn ligaments. A torn hamstring. Any one of these injuries can lead to a lengthy spell on the sidelines. And what if a 34-year-old player sustained all three injuries in one unfortunate incident? Who would bet on him returning to action at the highest level? Who would believe he could return to full fitness in just seven months?

Last year in Cardiff, you could see that Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer wasn't about to make such bets. He watched helplessly from the coaches box at the Millennium Stadium as De Villiers was carried off the pitch. The next day at the team hotel, he told journalists that losing De Villiers was a big blow for himself, the team, and the Boks' World Cup campaign. While Meyer hadn't given up all hope, he said that he would need to start considering his leadership alternatives.

But then a miracle a happened. De Villiers healed, and started to make progress with his rehabilitation. Two weeks ago, the player told reporters that he expected to be back in training by July, and to be playing for the Boks in the Rugby Championship. If all goes to plan, De Villiers will lead the Boks at the 2015 World Cup.

There's been a lot of talk about a possible replacement over the past few months. Victor Matfield led the Boks when De Villiers was injured last June, and was the favourite to replace De Villiers if the centre didn't recover in time for the 2015 World Cup.

After impressing Meyer in the 2014 Test season, Duane Vermeulen was also listed as a strong candidate. While the Stormers No 8 is flattered by Meyer's praise and would relish the opportunity, he still believes the Boks would benefit the most by having De Villiers at the helm.

'I’ve played under Jean for a few seasons, and I feel that he is the right man for the job,' Vermeulen told 'It was sad to see him injured. It stunned us in that game against Wales, losing our captain. Yoh, we were sad afterwards.

'He’s doing well now. I never thought he would be where he is at this moment. It’s amazing to see him walk again, let alone run. His commitment to his position in the Bok team, his attitude to the World Cup and to the team … it’s amazing, it really is inspiring.'

When Vermeulen was named Stormers captain in early 2015, one of the first people to congratulate him was De Villiers. The influential loose forward has led the Cape franchise to four wins already this season, and will be targeting another big scalp when the Stormers play the Hurricanes in Wellington this Friday.

There is an outside chance De Villiers will be available for the Stormers if they qualify for the Vodacom Super Rugby play-offs. However, for the Boks' sake, it's probably best De Villiers doesn't rush his return to the playing field. He should not return until he is completely ready.

Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli