South Africa suffered a big blow when Springbok captain Jean De Villiers was injured during their 12-6 defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday. De Villiers was forced to leave the field in the 58th minute after twisting his left knee and dislocating his knee cap. The dislocation was reduced on the field and he was sent for scans shortly after the match.
“The scans revealed significant ligament damage to the inside of his knee and the supporting muscles. Jean will return to South Africa and see an orthopaedic specialist in Cape Town early in the week. He has had previous surgery on this knee and the further management of the injury is dependent upon the specialist’s recommendations,” said Springbok team doctor Craig Roberts. Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer said losing De Villiers was a massive setback as the team were just beginning to build momentum in a tough encounter against Wales. The home team’s points came via four Leigh Halfpenny penalty goals, while Pat Lambie responded with two penalty goals for the visitors.
“It was a massively disappointing way to end the tour and our season, as we always strive to make our country proud. We simply made too many unforced errors. We always knew it was going to be a very tough Test, especially since we were without a lot of injured players while some very experienced players were not available because the match fell outside the Test window. When we lost Jean with more than 20 minutes to go, we had to play with a lot of inexperienced players at the end, especially in the backline. Losing Jean and the yellow card to Cornal Hendricks shortly thereafter were massive in the context of the game. We were forced to go from an attacking game in the final 20 minutes, where we’ve been strong in the past, to a defensive mode. But we’re not going to make any excuses. Wales deserve a lot of credit for their victory. We’ll take this defeat on the chin, make sure we learn from it and keep our heads up, focused on the task at hand next year. We have four tests left until the Rugby World Cup and will have a lot of players back by then who will make a difference,” said Meyer. Reflecting on the 2014 season, Meyer said he was happy with the progress the team has shown. Apart from the victory over New Zealand in October, which was a highlight, it was also the Springboks’ first unbeaten season at home since 2005, which included a draw against France.
The South Africans won 10 out of their 14 matches in 2014, for a winning percentage of 71%. Meyer said before the season he knew the year before a World Cup is always tough and the performance this season compares very well with 2002 (winning percentage of 45%), 2006 (42%) and 2010 (57%). South Africa scored 44 tries in total during the season, while their defensive effort was also very good in conceding only 19 tries, or 1.4 per game which equates to the best defence by the Boks in 15 years.
Two Springboks, Duane Vermeulen and Willie Le Roux, were nominated for the World Player of the Year Award, while Francois Hougaard walked away with the IRPA Try of the Year Award for his sublime five-pointer against the All Blacks at Ellis Park. Hendricks was also nominated for this award. “Statistics showed us the year before a World Cup is always tough and our aim was to work hard and ensure we still perform well. We learnt valuable lessons from the defeats in Cardiff and Dublin, while we came very close in Perth and Auckland. Although the season wasn’t perfect, I think we’ve still done well. The victory over New Zealand in Johannesburg was very important. We recorded good wins over England in London, Australia in Cape Town, Scotland in Port Elizabeth and Wales in Durban, while we also had to dig deep against Argentina in Salta and Wales in Nelspruit. With all the injuries to key players, and our overseas-based players not available at stages during the season, we were also forced to build our depth, which can be seen as a positive. We have nine months of very hard work ahead before we head out to England for the Rugby World Cup. We’re going to keep our feet on the ground and put in every effort, because we want to make our country proud next year. We would like to thank our supporters in South Africa and abroad for backing us every week, it really means a lot to us as a team and we value the effort they put in to get behind us,” said Meyer.
De Villiers was equally disappointed with the result in Cardiff, but said it was still a good season and also thanked the Springboks’ loyal fans for their support. “Losing is never nice and it hurt us to lose against Wales, but they also deserve a lot of credit for their performance. It was a disappointing way to end the year and not how we envisaged it, but we know where we stand and what needs to be done next year. We’ll keep our heads down and keep on working hard to ensure we give ourselves every chance to lift the Webb Ellis Cup next year,” said De Villiers.