Pieter de Villiers brings years of experience to Springbok scrum

Former tighthead expects real battle upfront despite Ireland’s injury crisis

Springbok scrum consultant Pieter de Villiers played 69 times for France. Photograph: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

Springbok scrum consultant Pieter de Villiers played 69 times for France. Photograph: Antoine Antoniol/Getty Images

 

Pieter de Villiers still looks in good enough nick to play Test rugby. A little bulk might be missing but he is remarkably fresh-faced for his 42 years and bears few visible scars of a kind normally reserved for frontrow protagonists.

Born in Malmesbury on the Western Cape, he was a formidable tighthead prop in his playing days, but unusually they were spent in the blue of France rather than the dark green of the South African national side. A decision to join Stade Francais in 1997 saw him embark on a road less taken.

He couldn’t speak a word of French when he arrived, and his Parisian sojourn was only meant to be for a year. Fate decreed otherwise and he went on to make 69 Test appearances for Les Tricolores, scoring two tries, and played in the 1999 World Cup final for his adopted country.

He was also a member of the French squad in the 2007 World Cup won by South Africa in Paris.

Neck injury

At Stade Francais he won five Top 14 championships in his 11 seasons there and played in two Heineken Cup finals, losing out to the Leicester Tigers in 2001 and to Toulouse in 2005, before a neck injury forced him to retire in 2008.

In May 2012, Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer asked him to take over as South African scrum coach. De Villiers was a highly regarded scrum technician in his playing days so it’s hardly a surprise to learn that he is an advocate of a cerebral approach to complement the brawn more traditionally associated with the Springbok scrum.

“With the law changes, a lot has changed at scrum time,” said de Villiers. “I played with the (old) laws, so I also had to change in terms of technique and cohesion. There is a different approach to scrummaging these days. I don’t think we can always rely on what we’ve done in the past.

“Today, with the new laws, the team that works hard on unit endurance and unit strength and keeping unit shape does well at scrum time.

“We are very happy with the way it went towards the end of the (Rugby) Championship, especially against the All Blacks and Australia in those last two games. We have had time over the past two weeks to work on our conditioning and the system.

Good competition

“We have done very well there; we are in a good space. We also know that we will be up against very good competition in terms of set piece but we have worked very well.”

De Villiers didn’t dismiss Ireland’s recent injury crisis that has seen props go down like ninepins, suggesting there will be no diminution in Ireland’s effectiveness come scrum time on Saturday evening at the Aviva stadium.

“I think Europe in general is a region that is very proud in terms of set pieces. The Ireland statistics speak for themselves. They have 100 per cent in terms of scrum success for this year, so we do respect their scrum, a lot.

“They have been very solid in the Six Nations and in terms of their tour to Argentina. We know we will be up against a solid unit and that is a great challenge after us having spent the latter part of the Championship doing well and having had these two weeks to prepare. I think it will be a good contest.

“Some of the (Ireland) guys coming in played against Argentina in June, where they did very well. It is a strong scrum system.”

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