Jean de Villiers suffers injury, Wales win and we say goodbye to Bakkies Botha...
The Springboks’ autumn tour to Britain, Ireland and Italy went from bad to worse, bookended by two unexpected losses to Ireland and Wales, with the latter compounded by a potentially career-ending injury to skipper Jean de Villiers.
South Africa Coach Heyneke Meyer was particularly upset after the 12-6 defeat to Wales in a game that he knew was a bridge too far for squad members who had been playing since early February.
His initial plan was to pick a callow team for the fixture from his bulky 36-man touring party on the understanding that Wales’ foreign-based players were, like his charges, unavailable for the match.
But after arriving in Cardiff the Boks were welcomed with stunning news. Wales would pick their full French contingent – Jamie Roberts, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Luke Charteris and Mike Phillips would all line up at the Millennium.
The Boks had said bon voyage to Schalk Burger, JP Pietersen, Bryan Habana, Gurthro Steenkamp, Jano Vermaak, Morné Steyn and Bakkies Botha prior to arriving in Cardiff. There was unhappiness in the Springbok camp about the perceived double standard considering the match was essentially a ‘friendly’ between the nations.
Manager Ian Schwartz even called for the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to seek clarity from World Rugby whether regulation nine had been breached.
“All we expect as a team is a fair and consistent application of the regulations,” Schwartz said. “If it’s not fair and consistent SARU must challenge it, but that is not for the team to decide.
“In June we requested the use of our French-based players for the match against Scotland that fell outside of the Test window, but the Federation of French Rugby (FFR) refused because it was against World Rugby’s regulations.”
Back-channel talks took place but the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) appeared to have done a deal with the FFR and there was little the Boks could do about it other than get on with the match.
WALES SECURE SECOND WIN IN 108 YEARS
Against this backdrop Wales deservedly secured only their second win in 30 attempts against the Boks.
It was a brutally physical game and despite being at the end of a long season the Boks couldn’t be faulted for lack of effort and commitment. No tries were scored as Wales took a historic 12-6 win thanks to four Leigh Halfpenny penalties to two from Pat Lambie.
A dubious yellow card for Bok wing Cornal Hendricks left Meyer furious, coming minutes after de Villiers suffered a horror knee injury. The coach felt that his team were starting to control the game with 18 minutes left when Hendricks went to the bin for challenging Halfpenny under a high ball. “We might have to rethink contesting the ball because it seems you can’t do it,” a confused Meyer said afterwards.
DE VILLIERS’S CAREER ON THE LINE
When Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau inadvertently careered into de Villiers left thigh, forcing the Bok captain’s entire body to corkscrew around his static lower leg, it was obvious the injury was massive.
De Villiers screamed in pain, which was audible from the stands. In an instant his dream of leading the Boks to the World Cup was in doubt.
He tore both posterior medial and cruciate ligaments, dislocated the kneecap and tore his hamstring. It took seven minutes to remove the stricken de Villiers from the field and it will take months for him to be able to walk properly again.
Ironically de Villiers had nearly withdrawn on the Wednesday preceding the game because he received a message from home that his wife was going into labour with their third child – a boy. It turned out to be a false alarm and a clearly distracted de Villiers lined up.
After being stabilised at hospital de Villiers, ever the leader, returned to the squad’s team room that night strapped in a heavy brace and participated in the traditional fines meeting. He was by all accounts one of the ringleaders in the subdued festivities.
Six days later surgery in Cape Town under the knife of world-renowned knee specialist Spike Erasmus was proclaimed successful, but with caution.
De Villiers had a full reconstruction of the anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments with an artificial graft, as well as a repair of the medial collateral ligament.
“The procedure went well, but at this stage it is difficult to determine an exact return to play time-frame,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts.
“The use of an artificial graft should speed up his rehabilitation and hopefully increase his chances of making a successful return to the playing field.”
BAKKIES BIDS ARRIVIDERCI IN ITALY
Knowing that he wasn’t available for the Wales Test due to French club commitments, bruising lock Bakkies Botha stunned Meyer when he informed the coach he wanted to quit Test rugby at their Monday morning one-on-one in Padova.
Botha had played in the 31-28 victory over England at Twickenham – the 85th time he’d donned the green and gold and felt satisfied with his contribution.
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Only Meyer knew of the decision and as a consequence did not select Botha to face Italy. As tradition dictates Bakkies handed out the Bok jerseys on Friday – following golfer Ernie Els in London and preceding injured flank Francois Louw in Cardiff.
His team-mates knew nothing, but after the 22-6 win over the Azzuri, Botha told the team of his decision. Tighthead Jannie du Plessis, whose clashes with Botha at provincial level in earlier years were not for the faint-hearted, admitted that he wept.