BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - South Africa captain Jean de Villiers retired from internationals on Sunday, a day after breaking his jaw at the Rugby World Cup.
De Villiers knew his time was up when he was hurt near the end of the 46-6 win against Samoa on Saturday, and went off in what was his 109th and final test cap.
“It’s never nice getting injured and knowing that I’ve played my last game for South Africa. It’s quite sad,” De Villiers said. “I won’t get this opportunity again. Having played for the Springboks for 13 years now, you’ve been through so much, you’ve made so many good friends, you’ve seen so many good things, you never think that it would end like this.”
He seemed cursed when it came to World Cups.
In the last warm-up for the 2003 Cup, he shattered his shoulder.
In 2007, he tore his bicep in the first match, and watched from the sidelines as the Springboks won their second World Cup.
In 2011, he popped a rib in the opener, and was a bystander as the team fell in the quarterfinals.
He thought he scored his 28th test try on Saturday, but it was ruled out because fullback Willie le Roux’s feet went slightly out of play when he made the final pass. The combative De Villiers was injured making a tackle on Samoa fullback Tim Nanai-Williams and, when he left, it was to a huge ovation from the travelling Springbok fans.
“I’m very grateful for the time that I’ve had in the Springbok jersey,” he said. “I told them last night, as a former Springbok now, I wish them the very best and I’m supporter No. 1 now. Certainly, I don’t want the guys to feel sorry for me.”
De Villiers received a World Cup winner’s medal in 2007, and won the Tri-Nations twice. He was South Africa player of the year twice, and finishes as South Africa’s fourth most capped player. He captained the Springboks 37 times.
But he was forever coming back from injuries.
His test debut against France in 2002 lasted five minutes when he tore ligaments in his left knee.
To make this World Cup, he fought back, at age 34, from a leg injury so bad, that TV commentator Jonathan Davies said it shouldn’t be replayed.
Against Wales in Cardiff last November, De Villiers dislocated his kneecap, ruptured ligaments, and tore his hamstring.
He was back playing in July, and leading the Springboks in August, when he broke the left side of his jaw against Argentina.
He came back yet again, only to break the right side of the jaw on Saturday. He still managed to return to the fray five minutes later.
“Jean is not only our captain and one of the most experienced players in the squad, but he is also the glue of this team and to lose him is very sad,” South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer said. “After injuring his knee last November in Cardiff, he worked incredibly hard to get back to full fitness and the plans worked out perfectly, but rugby is a physical sport and injuries happen.
“We are all very heartbroken for him and we will miss his influence a lot. He has been very unlucky with injuries. Jean has fought back from all his injuries and this is the kind of character and fighting spirit we will need to show going forward in this competition.”
Meyer has not yet announced his new captain.
Jan Serfontein replaces De Villiers in the squad.
South Africa has fitness doubts over prop Jannie Du Plessis (knee) and center Damian de Allende (knee).
Replacement center Jesse Kriel took an accidental kick to the face against Samoa and has a swollen eye, while lock Victor Matfield has a tight hamstring and scrumhalf Fourie du Preez took a blow to his ribs. All should be fit to face Scotland next weekend.
De Villiers will be watching from South Africa, where he will return on Monday.
“I would love to play for the Springboks again but I won’t get that opportunity and that’s just life,” he said. “I’m very much at peace with what I’ve done in a Springbok jersey.