De Villiers' exit could open door for young Boks stars

11:58 am on 1 October 2015

OPINION: South African captain Jean De Villiers' Test retirement after another broken jaw isn't the big blow to the Springboks' World Cup chances it might have been a few years ago.

Jean De Villiers after suffering one of a long list of injuries, against Scotland in 2006 at ABSA Stadium, Durban, South Africa. South Africa won the match 36-16. Photo: Africa Visuals/PHOTOSPORT**NZ USE ONLY**

Jean De Villiers after suffering one of a long list of injuries Photo: Photosport

This was always going to be 34-year-old De Villiers' final World Cup.

And while it's impressive how many Test caps the injury-riddled skipper amassed, and how he came back from each injury to even play again, in reality there are two more than able replacements in the Boks squad.

In fact, it could be argued De Villiers was keeping better players out of the midfield.

In the young Bulls utility backs Jesse Kriel and Damian de Allende, South Africa have two huge stars just waiting for their chance to set the global stage alight - and De Villiers' career-ending injury may just hand them the chance to shine.

Kriel, 21, can play first-five, centre, winger and fullback while de Allende, 23, is a centre or wing.

Springboks centre Jesse Kriel (L) tackles All Blacks wing Charles Piutau with second five Damian de Allende in hot pursuit

Jesse Kriel (L) tackles Charles Piutau with Damian de Allende in hot pursuit Photo: Photosport

The only complication for coach Heyneke Meyer, who's called up Jan Serfontein as De Villiers' replacement, is that both Kriel and de Allende were among a handful of Boks players who left the field injured in their 46-6 thrashing of Manu Samoa on Sunday.

Assuming that neither youngster is in danger of sitting out the knockout stages - surely the two-time World Cup winners will at least make the quarter-finals, if not top their pool - then watch this space to see what they can do.

Kriel scored superb solo tries against both New Zealand and Australia in what was otherwise a largely forgettable Rugby Championship for his country.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 25 July 2015: Jesse Kriel scores his try for the Springboks in the Rugby Championship Test between SOUTH AFRICA and NEW ZEALAND at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 July 2015. Bokke 20 - 27 All Blacks

Rising Springboks star Jesse Kriel scores his try against the All Blacks in Johannesburg Photo: Photosport

In the 27-20 loss to the All Blacks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, Kriel scored a wonderful five-pointer, handing his team the second-half lead as he crashed through the tackles of both veteran midfielders Conrad Smith and Ma'a Nonu.

He also provided an assist, and Kriel crossed for a marvellous try against the Wallabies in Brisbane, while de Allende made a number of powerful bursts in both Tests without scoring.

Damian de Allende of South Africa during the 2015 Castle Rugby Championship rugby match between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa on July 25, 2015©Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

Damian de Allende Photo: Photosport

Of course De Villiers missed both those defeats with injury, his first broken jaw this season coming after he'd somehow recovered from a horrific knee injury suffered against Wales in November.

He also missed the 2007 World Cup triumph with injury. But he's almost always injured nowadays. Was he really going to be able to add the sort of impact in the No.13 jersey he once had?

Even coach Meyer, who's been heavily criticised for gambling on older heads over his rising stars, believes Kriel's best position is centre - so the absence of De Villiers may prove to be a boon for the Boks, not a loss at all.

The only factor the captain provides that the rookie midfield pair don't is obviously experience, and who knows whether his 109 Tests will be missed at some key point later in the Cup?

Of course he's an inspirational captain and a leader in the team. But De Villiers is gone now. And his team looked ponderous in their shock loss against the quickfire Brave Blossoms in Brighton.

So maybe this is a blessing in disguise.

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