South Africa captain Jean de Villiers has announced his retirement from Test rugby after being ruled out of the rest of the World Cup due to a fractured jaw.
The 34-year-old centre earned his 109th cap during the Springboks’ 46-6 thrashing of Samoa in the Pool B encounter yet it proved to be his final international appearance.
“When I got injured yesterday and I left the field, I knew that I had played my last Test for South Africa,” said De Villiers.
Only lock Victor Matfield (124), former hooker John Smit and wing Bryan Habana (both 111) have played more times for South Africa, while he is the second most capped Springbok captain of all-time, having skippered his country 37 times.
While he was a World Cup winner in 2007, De Villiers only played in South Africa’s opening victory over Samoa after tearing his left bicep.
Yet after being named South Africa captain in 2012, 10 years after making his first international appearance, he has been the fulcrum of the side.
He was initially a doubt to make the ongoing World Cup after fracturing his jaw - on the opposite side of his mouth to the current issue – in a defeat to Argentina in August, his first match since sustaining a knee injury last November.
He said: “Injuries are part of rugby and I’ve had my fair share, so by now I know how to cope with them. It’s very sad, but life goes on – I need to take it all in and move forward.
“The last time I got injured in a World Cup match and had to go home, was in 2007, also against Samoa, and that finished well for the Boks, so hopefully it will happen again.
“I was quite sad on the one hand when I came off the field, as I knew I won’t get the opportunity to play for my country again. Having played for South Africa for 13 years, I’ve been fortunate to experience so many great things and I got to know so many good friends, but you never think it would end like this.
“It has happened now and I’ll be eternally grateful for the time I’ve had in the Springbok jersey.”
De Villiers, who will return to South Africa on Monday and faces possible surgery on his injury, wished the team well for the remainder of their World Cup campaign, adding: “I’m now their number one supporter.”
South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer paid a glowing tribute to De Villiers, who played the first two Tests in South Africa’s 2009 series victory over the British and Irish Lions.
He said: “The way in which he never gave up fighting to overcome his last serious knee injury reminded me again how much of a warrior he is and how highly he regarded the Springbok jersey.
“He will go down as one of the greatest Springboks ever and in my eyes he is probably one of the best captains in the history of world rugby, who always put the team first and gave his time for any player, young or old without ever changing who he is.
“To see the emotions in the team room when he said his good byes to his team-mates made me realise how well-liked he is, by every person in this squad, but also most other people in the world-wide rugby fraternity.
“Jean enriched my life and I hold him in very high regard, as person and rugby player. Rugby will be poorer without Jean de Villiers.”
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell played alongside De Villiers at Munster in the 2009/2010 season, and hailed the luckless Springbok in the wake of his retirement.
“He’s a great guy, an incredible leader,” said O’Connell.
“He has all the values you admire and want in a captain.
“And I think World Cups just don’t seem to work out for him.
“And it’s so disappointing for him, especially to go on the journey he did to come back from his knee injury.
“And then to pick up a knock on his jaw five weeks ago as well, to get back from that and now to pick up this, it’s very disappointing for him.
“But that’s Test rugby.
“He’s had a terrific career, he’s a fantastic player and I wish him the best in his retirement.
“They seem to have a lot of strength in depth but he will be a big loss for them.
“He’s a big leader for them, he has a lot of experience, defensively he’s a very clever player in that backline and he’s just a calming influence.
“So they’ve got some young guys in that backline and he was a good guy to have in there with them.
“So he’ll be a big loss.”