Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Captain courageous shows resilience

Bok skipper has a range of skills which are getting more sting from his team.

You know the bloke. Tall, blond, athletic, standing in the middle of the park waving his arms like an Italian traffic controller.

He's a damned nuisance, that Jean de Villiers, and a heck of a rugby player who has shown his resilience through four knee operations to rise with the best in his role as Springbok captain.

That spirit, a range of skills which are the envy of many and his nature, which is demandingly nurturing, are helping draw more sting from the Springboks as they have embarked on their second season with coach Heyneke Meyer.

The 32-year-old de Villiers is on a roll, playing most matches in the last two years for the Stormers and the Boks as he juggles home life with the recent birth of his second child.

His constant playing schedule was not sustainable, however. He'd had plenty of injuries and wanted to make the most of his chances when he was fully fit. De Villiers has played 90 tests since 2002, including 19 against the All Blacks for eight victories.

This season the Springboks look more organised and while Meyer might look a frenzied figure of agitation in the coaches' box, he and his side have added more variety and impact to the Rugby Championship.

They cleaned the Wallabies clock 38-12 last week and while Australia are a battling group, it was an impressive and historic victory in Brisbane.

The Boks did most of their preparation at home before setting out on their Mendoza, Brisbane and Auckland road trip.

They have lost three times at Eden Park since an 18-all draw in 1994 and have won intermittently at other New Zealand grounds.

De Villiers was part of a side which went close on his debut here in 2004 when he scored after 27 seconds before they fell to a last-minute Doug Howlett touchdown.

This year the Springboks want to draw a line through the Eden Park hoodoo and be known as the side who bucked the trend.

"Bar World Cups and maybe a Lions series, this is right up there and this will definitely rank in the top three, if not the biggest game that I have played in," de Villiers said.

"It is always special. As a rugby player and sportsman these are the games you want to play, these are the games you look forward to. We want to measure ourselves against the best."

Is that any hint of underdog status or a sign of weakness? Probably just deferential politeness, like his comment about the All Blacks being a special group who would rank with the best in rugby history.

The Springboks won impressively in Brisbane but were not satisfied with their play. They would not get that same latitude from the All Blacks who were the World Cup holders and had continued to develop their talent and their style.

De Villiers is pushing that improvement path with his side just as he took time out from his comfort zone in 2010 to sign for Munster. He hardly knew anyone there and wanted to challenge himself to go to another level in his sport.

He was open to change and searching for growth in all areas of his life. If the Springboks latch on to those sort of messages they will take some beating.

- NZ Herald

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