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Fourie du Preez faces a tough task hauling the Springboks into the World Cup knockout rounds after they suffered the biggest shock in the tournament’s history and lost their captain.
The 33-year-old widely considered one of the best scrum halves in the world says only that he will “lead from the front.” But that is just what a lot of South Africans want right now.
The country still cannot get over seeing their beloved rugby idols beaten 34-32 in their opening World Cup match against Japan.
And the thumping 46-6 Pool B win over Samoa may have reassured them. But the decision of captain Jean de Villiers to quit after suffering a second broken jaw in six weeks came as a new blow.
South Africa go into their third game against Scotland on Saturday still not certain of qualification and Du Preez has a big job on his hands.
— Derek Watts (@DerekWatts) September 30, 2015
Without de Villiers and injured vice captain Victor Matfield, Du Preez has lost 200 caps and must galvanize a youthful side at St James Park.
“I’m not one for many words so I’ll lead from the front on Saturday,” Du Preez said of his captaincy style.
“Luckily we have guys such as Schalk Burger and Duane Vermeulen to back me up, as well as a lot of experience across the team.
“I’m really grateful for this opportunity.
“A few months ago I thought my rugby career was over, and a few weeks ago I didn’t think I was even going to be here in England today. But life sometimes takes funny turns so to sit here as captain is unbelievable for me.”
Highly regarded as a tactician, Du Preez the “rugby brain” is one of the last remaining members of a golden era of Springboks that won the World Cup in 2007, beat the British and Irish Lions in 2009 and scored a 3-0 series win against the All Blacks in 2010.
While the praise often goes to the more flamboyant team-mates like Matfield or Bryan Habana, Du Preez has been the bedrock of Springbok sides of the last decade. Current coach Heyneke Meyer has built his entire campaign around the player he regards as “the best in the world.”
Meyer plucked Du Preez out of the junior ranks and gave him his first start in South Africa’s Currie Cup competition when he was just 19.
A Junior World Cup winner a year later, he was invited to the Springbok trials in 2003, but failed to make the final squad. Du Preez was mentored by another great in Joost van der Westhuizen and started to become a vital part of the Blue Bulls Currie Cup hat-trick between 2002 and 2004.
He had to wait to become a dominant part of the Springboks though.
He was not a first choice pick in 2006, but returned in 2007 to be the unsung hero in the Springboks World Cup win. He grabbed a man of the match award in the 36-0 demolition of England and starred in the campaign that led to the trophy at Stade de France a few weeks later.
Du Preez was Bulls captain when they defended their first Super Rugby title in 2008. But he struggled and the team finished 10th.
He returned in 2009 in scintillating form, however. The Bulls won their second southern hemisphere title, South Africa beat the British and Irish Lions and claimed a Tri-Nations title.
A year later, the Boks whitewashed the All Blacks 3-0 in their Tri Nations campaign.
But a shoulder injury curbed his ambitions in 2011 in a disappointing World Cup in New Zealand. He retired from international rugby and headed to Japan to play for Suntory Sungoliath.
Meyer coaxed Du Preez back into Springboks action in 2013 but a knee injury sidelined him again in 2014 and almost stopped him going to this World Cup.
After being selected in August, Du Preez shocked many with his candid answer that he might not make it. Medical staff had cleared him, but in his own mind he was not 100 percent.
Brutally honest at times, always expecting a high standard, the Du Preez style will not be extravagant. A no-nonsense thinker on the field, he is his own biggest critic. He expects nothing less than the best from himself and his team-mates.
Meyer’s choice should be seen in the context of their 12 year history. According to Meyer, Du Preez “understands what I want, he knows how I think.”
The coach has preached a game plan true to South African strengths: a strong setpiece, a dominant forward pack with a halfback running the show.
Du Preez the stickler for detail is precisely the man to run that show for Meyer.
As it is his last World Cup, Du Preez has set his eyes on leading the Springboks to glory and will lead from the front. If the players follow, it will be hard to stop them.
© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse
9 things you didn’t know about Fourie du Preez
Cape Town – NINE things you may not know about new Springbok captain Fourie du Preez.
1. He’s the nephew of Springbok great Frik du Preez
2. His father played No 8 for the Bulls.
3. Was named SA Rugby Player of the Year in 2006 and 2009.
4. Will be the 56th player to captain the Springboks.
5. Won a World Cup (2007), two Rugby Championships (2004, 2009), three Currie Cups (2003, 2004, 2009) and three Super Rugby titles (2007, 2009, 2010).
6. Made his Test debut against Ireland in Bloemfontein in 2004.
7. Was born in Pretoria on March 24, 1982.
8. Matriculated from Affies.
9. The Springboks have won 71.52% of matches Fourie du Preez has played in.
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