SPRINGBOK coach Heyneke Meyer pulled a rabbit out of the hat by making veteran scrumhalf Fourie du Preez captain for Saturday’s World Cup clash against Scotland at St James’ Park.
Du Preez is a quiet leader and takes over from the injured Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield to become the 56th Springbok captain and the fourth in only six Tests this year.
“It’s not easy to lose Jean and Victor in one week,” Meyer said. “But I coached Fourie since he was 19, and I’ve always been astonished by his rugby knowledge. He’s a rugby genius.”
Matfield has a calf strain, opening the door for Lood de Jager to reunite with Eben Etzebeth in the second row.
Du Preez’s elevation to captain over Schalk Burger, who led the Boks against the All Blacks at Ellis Park when he became the 55th Bok skipper, raised some eyebrows.
But Meyer said he wanted to leave Burger to focus on his role as blindside flank.
“I had meetings with all the senior players about the decision,” he said. “I feel that Schalk brings something different and operates better under less pressure.”
Du Preez said: “It’s a massive honour to captain SA, but I’m a quiet guy and won’t talk too much. Hopefully, I can lead by example and the team will follow me. Life is funny. A few weeks ago I didn’t think I would be here and a few months ago I didn’t think I’d play again,” he said in reference to a severe ankle injury.
Flank Willem Alberts will make his first appearance of the year after a catalogue of niggling injuries. And just in time. Meyer said if Alberts had not made it on to the field this week, he would have been heading home.
“I guess rugby is a contact sport and you have to be realistic that you’re not always going to get to play every game,” Alberts said.
“I have a part to play in the squad. I don’t think there was extra pressure on me to be fit for this game, but I’m glad I am fit.”
By picking him on the bench, Meyer has made a risky selection. If one of the starting loose forwards is injured early on, Alberts is not in good enough physical shape to play nearly a full game. He is only expected to play 20-30 minutes in an ideal scenario. The coach admitted it was a calculated risk, and suggested that reserve lock Pieter-Steph du Toit might have to play flank at some stage if the worst-case scenario unfolded.
In all, Meyer made three changes to the starting line-up from the team that beat Samoa 46-6 last weekend, with hooker Bismarck du Plessis returning in place of Adriaan Strauss, Jesse Kriel in for De Villiers and De Jager for Matfield. De Jager will have to take over the lineout calling duties from Matfield to add to his workload, but it is a job he is relishing.
“I’ve been working on it and know my role, and even though Scotland have some guys who speak Afrikaans, we haven’t changed our calls much,” De Jager said. “We’ve tweaked our calls a little, but it’s nothing major.”