South Africa captain Jean de Villiers says he is very proud to skipper a “special bunch of guys” into battle against Japan in their opening World Cup match on Saturday.
The 34-year-old de Villiers, who has 107 caps despite a litany of injuries, is seeking a record third world title for the Springboks and make up for his personal disappointment at missing the 2007 title success when he was injured in the opening game.
The centre, one of several survivors from eight years ago, goes into the game under pressure. His performance in South Africa’s defeat by Argentina in Durban in August was poor and he left the pitch with a broken jaw.
However, De Villiers – who had only just returned from a serious knee injury he suffered last November – preferred to pay tribute to the team he is leading.
— South African Rugby (@Springboks) September 18, 2015
“I am very proud to be the captain of a special bunch of guys. Not only are they special as players but they are also good people,” he said.
“It is great to go into battle with guys you enjoy spending time with. All of the 31 players in the squad appreciate that not everyone is going to get a game at the World Cup but contribute nevertheless to the atmosphere.
“I am very excited about the challenge, I know it will be a fierce challenge but it is all about being able to do the country proud when you put on the (Springbok) green jersey.”
De Villiers, whose Test career got off to disastrous start when he suffered a serious knee injury minutes into his first appearance against France in November 2002, said the performance would count more than the final scoreline against a side that has not won a game at the World Cup since the 1991 edition.
“We have been tweaking details since we got here, as the bulk of the work was done in South Africa as it always is before World Cups, but it would be foolish for me to publicise what they are,” said De Villiers.
“We’re not going to put a score on it (the result on Saturday) but the first thing is to tick those boxes of the things we have been doing and need to repeat out on the pitch and reap the rewards of our work.”
The statistics suggest Japan has little chance of bringing off the greatest upset in World Cup history but the ‘Brave Blossoms’ coach Eddie Jones is licking his lips at trying to pull it off.
“It’s David vs Goliath,” he said. “They’ve got the greatest winning record in World Cup history, a massive physical team with experience.
“We’ve got the least winning record at the World Cup, and we’re the smallest team in the World Cup. But for us, we have the most experienced Japanese team. It’s a great opportunity for us, we’re looking forward to it.”
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Veteran Canadian lock Jamie Cudmore has form with Irish enforcer Paul O’Connell, but both skippers for this weekend’s World Cup Pool D opener insist that what happens on the pitch stays there.
Cudmore was involved in an infamous scuffle with O’Connell during a 2008 European Cup match between Clermont and Munster at the latter’s Thomond Park.
The Irishman’s head shot backwards from a vicious uppercut from the Canadian after a ruck and all hell broke loose. Ironically, current Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was on the touchline that day in the colours of Clermont, where he was assistant coach.
“Jamie got the worst consequence, a red card and suspension. Paul got a yellow and got back on there,” Schmidt reminisced with a wry grin.
While O’Connell’s career has been relatively free of disciplinary action, Cudmore’s is another story. He joined Clermont from Grenoble in 2005 with a fearsome reputation after accruing eight yellow cards in 21 matches in the 2004/5 season for the Alps team.
“If you don’t know Jamie very well, you’d see him as a little bit of a reckless character,” Schmidt added. “But he’d be one of the nicest guys you could meet.”
O’Connell, like Cudmore appearing in his fourth World Cup, said: “The biggest testament to him is to be in a club like Clermont, and he consistently commands a place in that team.”
Cudmore added: “What happens on the field is full-on and afterwards we’ll have a chat and a laugh, something I really appreciate.”
Argentina see a New Zealand weakness in the maul and will attack that particular area when the two nations clash in at Wembley, coach Daniel Hourcade said.
The Pumas upset the All Blacks with their rolling maul when the two sides met in the recent Rugby Championship and Hourcade said that will be the target.
“The maul is one of the many options we have and we are trying to develop to hurt the All Blacks,” Hourcade said, noting All Blacks coach Steve Hansen “did not like what happened.”
Hansen branded the lethal rolling maul as “bloody boring” and called for a law change so it could be legally collapsed after Argentina scored two tries in quick succession in July from lineout drives the All Blacks were powerless to stop.
The tries were never going to change the outcome as the All Blacks coasted to a 39-18 victory in Christchurch. But they did expose a chink in the All Blacks’ armour.
The pack Hourcade has lined up to play the All Blacks on Sunday is even more experienced than the one he field in Christchurch.
With one exception it is the same pack that steered the way for their historic win over South Africa in Johannesburg last month with the only change being the inclusion of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe who replaces fellow veteran flanker Juan Manuel Leguizamon.
“We know the All Blacks are the best team in the world but we are going out to try to win,” Hourcade said. “We all have weaknesses and you have to analyse and detect them. But to break the All Blacks we must have perfection, tactics with almost surgical precision.”