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South Africa names de Villiers captain for England series

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Associated Press
6/4/2012 10:11:27 AM
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DURBAN, South Africa -- Jean de Villiers was named Springboks captain on Monday for the three-test series against England as new South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer also had to defend some of his surprising selections in his first squad.

Meyer, who took over this year, picked experienced centre De Villiers to lead the Boks against England, and plans to review the decision ahead of the southern hemisphere's four-nation rugby championship in August.

The 31-year-old De Villiers, who has played 72 tests for South Africa since his debut in 2002, said "my heart was in my throat" when he was told on Sunday by Meyer that he would succeed John Smit as captain.

"This is an honour that is not bestowed upon many people and I really hope I can do my country proud," De Villiers said. "I do realize there is massive responsibility that comes with this position. The real hard work only starts now."

Meyer said that part of the reason for picking De Villiers as leader was the impressive way he had captained a young and inexperienced Stormers team to the top of the South Africa conference in the Super 15 competition.

"Jean commands respect from everyone in South African rugby and in the short space of time we've worked together, Jean has shown that he understands what we want to achieve on the field," Meyer said.

However, despite De Villiers' Cape Town-based Stormers being the best-performing South African team in the Super 15, Meyer only selected three of the team's players in his 32-man squad for the England series, leaving out former squad regulars Gio Aplon and Juan de Jongh and emerging flanker Siya Kolisi.

Instead, Meyer named 13 members of the Bulls -- a team he used to coach -- in his group, leading to suggestions of provincial bias by some members of the South African media.

Also surprisingly excluded was Cheetahs flanker Heinrich Brussow, a key member of the World Cup squad and viewed as a crucial ball winner for the Springboks at the breakdown.

Meyer said he was happy with his selection, and Brussow's absence was temporary and a tactical adjustment for the England series. The "core" of the players were just for the three tests, Meyer said.

"There'll always be criticism, but I'd like the country to get behind the team," Meyer said. "I think this is the best squad going forward, each guy now needs to pick up his hand and show he needs to be in the team.

"Heinrich Brussow is a brilliant player and I just think it's a matter of time before he is selected again. The game keeps on changing and you need to pick horses for courses. I really feel sorry that he's not in the team, but I also feel happy for the youngsters that have been picked."

Meyer brought nine uncapped players into his squad as South Africa moved on from the era of Smit and Victor Matfield, who as captain and vice-captain led the country to World Cup glory in France in 2007 and played more than 100 tests.

The pair retired from international rugby after last year's World Cup in New Zealand, when former coach Peter de Villiers also left.

The Springboks also lost a host of senior players, including influential scrumhalf Fourie du Preez, to overseas clubs. Japan-based Du Preez and forwards Bakkies Botha, Danie Rossouw and Gurthro Steenkamp all were left out of Meyer's first group, while experienced players Schalk Burger, Juan Smith and Andries Bekker will miss the England series with injury.

South Africa plays Stuart Lancaster's England -- which also is in transition -- on consecutive weekends in Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. Meyer's squad will have just six days together before the first test on Saturday.

"Obviously they've had a lot of time to prepare and they did really well in the Six Nations," Meyer said of England. "But I really want to focus on our players and the time we've had."

Jean de Villiers (Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Gallo Images/Getty Images)
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