SOUTH AFRICAN star Jean de Villiers will make his Munster debut against Newport Gwent Dragons at Musgrave Park on Sunday week.
The Springbok centre arrived in Cork yesterday following a busy summer, having helped his country to a series victory over the Lions as well as the Tri Nations Championship title.
He will undergo a medical examination and fitness test in Limerick today, but Munster manager Shaun Payne reckons the powerful centre has nothing much to prove in either area, saying: “I reckon he passed his fitness test against New Zealand last weekend.”
The player also insisted he is ready for action, and pointed out he is far from exhausted as the southern hemisphere season comes to a close.
“In fact, I feel very fresh. I got injured around the second half of the Super 14 season and was out for close on three months. In effect that was basically my pre-season preparation, I conditioned myself and worked hard in the gym. It has been a good base, I feel fresh to go and I’m looking forward to the season here.”
An upbeat de Villiers admitted that the long journey from New Zealand to South Africa and then on to Ireland had been tiring but stressed: “I’m delighted to be here at last; I’m really looking forward to the challenge.”
He admitted he had been quizzed on numerous occasions about his decision to move to Ireland but figured it was really a no-brainer. “That question has come up for sure; but I think it (Munster) is a fantastic club; there is a lot of history, a lot of success with some great players playing here and (to my mind) it’s a brand and a team one would want to be part of.
“I’m just looking to add something to that and hopefully make this season a success as well (for the Munster team). There are things I have to learn about Munster but what I do know is that they play fantastic rugby; they do have great history, and that is something I should enjoy, coming from the team (club) I’m coming from in South Africa (Western Province).
“I can relate to a team that has a lot of history and to a team where it’s hugely important to want to play for the jersey. I’m looking forward to playing alongside some of the players I came up against on the Lions tour this summer; fantastic players and I suppose it’s funny how it works in international rugby that you can play against these people a few months ago and be team colleagues from today on. You learn just as much from playing against guys as from playing with them; there are some very classy players here and hopefully I can learn a lot.”
De Villiers believes all good things have to come to an end. Reflecting on a fantastic period of success with the Springboks, he admitted; “It has been great, but this is a new scene for me and the thing is to bring that (confidence) with me into this team, to add what I can to Munster and hopefully learn from them at the same time.
“Sure, I’ll miss the South African scene; it is my country, I have played over 50 Test games and it’s always a great honour to represent your country. But it is a decision I made (to move on at this stage) and I knew when I took that decision that I wouldn’t be able to play for the Springboks at the same time. I have to live with that, move on and enjoy the time I have with a new team,” he said.
He stressed that his career was more than just about playing Test rugby as he said: “I’ve played at international level, Super 14, Currie Cup and other levels; every time I put on a jersey it was about being proud to do that. If you don’t play for pride, if you don’t give 100 per cent and if you don’t play to win then I think you’re in the wrong place. For me it’s important to be successful in whatever I do and I want to be successful with Munster, whether that be in the Magners League or the Heineken Cup; we play to win and we play to be a success.”
Few, if any, would bet against him making the Munster starting line up, but de Villiers doesn’t expect to walk into the team. “Obviously, my aim is to get in and then to play as well as I can; the personal goals will then fall away, after that it’s only about focusing on team goals, trying to ensure the team is successful.”
While he was pencilled in automatically as South Africa’s number 12, de Villiers has kept the door open for Munster coach Tony McGahan to pick him at outside centre or on either wing.
He said: “You must always be able to adapt; the team must come first. If I was always able to choose I would probably want to play 12 but I will play where I am asked to play, although I don’t think I would want to play at one, two or three (front row)!”
De Villiers has signed for one season with an option on another. He insisted that he is open to staying on, even if it means he misses out on the upcoming World Cup in 2011.
“That (missing out) was always a possibility when I made my decision to move. I have been injured in previous World Cup campaigns and I’ve learned that you can’t plan ahead too far anyway.
“I’ll take it a year at a time, see where I’m at this time next year because maybe at that stage I won’t be up and running for a Springboks spot anymore. I’ll take it game by game and see where I end up.”
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