SOUTH Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has said centre Jean de Villiers would captain the Springboks in their three-Test series against England.
The announcement at a restaurant north of Durban ended months of speculation as to who would succeed retire hooker John Smit with former lock Victor Matfield and scrum-half Fourie du Preez among those tipped.
Media rumours about 35-year-old Matfield eventually fizzled out while Du Preez reportedly told Meyer that he did not feel Test-ready having played a season with Japanese champions Suntory Sungoliath.
South Africa and England continue a rivalry that began in 1906 this Saturday at Kings Park in Durban followed by two more Tests on June 16 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg and on June 23 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
“My heart was in my throat when Heyneke told me about his decision,” said De Villiers. “This is not an honour bestowed upon many people and I really hope that I can do my country proud.”
Meyer explained his choice: “Jean commands respect from everyone in South African rugby and in the short space of time we have worked together, Jean has shown that he understands what we want to achieve on the field.”
The coach emphasised the appointment was only for the England series and he would consider a long-term captain later in the year while wary of the dangers such a decision posed.
Smit led the Boks for eight seasons and was a controversial first-choice hooker at the last World Cup ahead of Sharks teammate Bismarck du Plessis with many commentators believing he got the nod only because he was captain.
De Villiers was not even skipper of Super 15 franchise Western Stormers at the beginning of this year, but flank Schalk Burger suffered a long-term injury in a Super 15 opener and the door of opportunity swung open for his deputy.
The centre, who spent time with Irish province Munster a few years ago before returning to Cape Town, has guided Stormers to the top of the South African conference entering the closing stages of the Super 15 league season.
Meyer hinted last month that De Villiers was a serious contender to lead his country after spending several days working with the Stormers squad as part of the England series build-up.
“I was really impressed with the way Jean runs the backline and his organisational skills. He is definitely one of the contenders for the captaincy,” Meyer said then.
Although 31-year-old De Villiers plays inside centre for Stormers, he is set to wear the No 13 shirt against England with Francois Steyn, who has rejoined Sharks from Paris-based Racing Metro, his midfield partner.
The injury-prone star made his Test debut against France in 2002, suffering a serious knee injury just five minutes into the match, and has scored 95 points in 72 Tests.
Meyer, who replaced controversial Peter de Villiers after defending champions South Africa were beaten by Australia in the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-finals, is clear what he expects from his captain.
“I need someone with rugby intelligence who can read my mind about what I want on the field,” said the man who turned Northern Bulls into Currie Cup and Super 14 champions.
“He has to buy into my philosophy because if you have a captain with a different style, then it is never going to work. The captain must also have good relations and demeanour with the media.”
England and South Africa drew 3-3 at Crystal Palace in London 106 years ago and the Springboks have since won 19 Tests and lost 12 ahead of the first three-Test series between the countries.