Large sections of the South African media have demanded Springboks skipper Jean de Villiers be dumped for a crucial Rugby World Cup game against Samoa in Birmingham Saturday.
The inside centre was among the chief flops last weekend as the twice world champions suffered a sensational 34-32 loss to rank outsiders Japan in the Pool B opener.
It was the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history and the media insist De Villiers and others be axed when the team to face the Pacific islanders is named Wednesday.
Those targeted for the chop include De Villiers, full-back Zane Kirchner, fly-half Patrick Lambie, scrum-half Ruan Pienaar and veteran lock Victor Matfield.
De Villiers, 34, has been plagued by pre-World Cup problems as a long recovery from a knee injury was followed by a broken jaw on his Test recall against Argentina.
He suffered a kick in the face against Japan in English seaside city Brighton and has a swollen lip.
But as De Villiers — whose performance in the historic defeat by Argentina last month in Durban was labelled that of a ‘cart horse’ — pleaded with his stunned squad to regain form and beat Samoa, the media believe the back is part of the problem rather than the solution.
“De Villiers, a legend of the game, has done himself a disservice because of an obsession to captain the team at the World Cup,” said Business Day columnist Mark Keohane.
“His conditioning, because of the knee ligament injury against Wales last year and the broken jaw against Argentina two months ago, is not of the necessary standard.
“He, as a player, is Jean de Villiers in name only,” wrote the former Springboks communications manager.
“Damian de Allende, younger, stronger and in prime condition, is the form No. 12. He has to start.”
Keohane did not spare 38-year-old lock Matfield — the oldest player at the 2015 World Rugby Cup in England — either.
“Those old daddies, notably Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield, look like pensioners.”
Johannesburg Times writer Craig Ray said: “Captain Jean de Villiers is a warrior, but injuries have ruined his build-up.
“He looks out of sorts and with in-form Damian de Allende waiting for his chance, the captain will have to sit (it) out.
“It is a big call, but there is not any other available to the coach.
“Ruan Pienaar does little more than pass and Fourie du Preez needs to start … full-back Willie le Roux should have played against Japan and his omission was a mystery.
“Patrick Lambie failed to take his chance against Japan and Handre Pollard must surely be recalled,” wrote Ray.
“Up front, No. 8 Duane Vermeulen must either go home or play. His neck injury was unfortunate, but he was selected, which means he should be available.”
Springboks team doctor Craig Roberts says Vermeulen and another ‘Springcrock’, flanker Willem Alberts — who pulled out of the game with Japan on the morning of the match because of injury — are available to face Samoa at Villa Park.
Independent Newspapers writer Mike Greenaway said De Villiers had the look of a condemned man at the post-Japan media conference and it could well be the end of the road for the centre.
“It is a tough one. Wise heads will say now is not the time to panic, and dropping the captain would be a major call.
“But as (coach Heyneke) Meyer said last week: ‘Jean knows form is going to be the chief criteria for every player … we have other generals capable of leading the side’.” – Agence France-Presse