“Kuridrani’s try in Brisbane … Lood’s try not getting awarded against the All Blacks … Pat Lambie’s kick last year: Those are the differences between being a great team and a terrible team,” De Villiers explained on Friday.
The 54th Springbok captain will lead his side out for the last time on South African soil on Saturday (5pm kick-off) when his side take on Argentina in the Rugby Championship finale at King’s Park, and he may be forgiven for taking even a brief moment to reflect on the latest twist in what has been the most tumultuous of rides.
“There is always a possibility that every game you play may be your last. I realised that over the last eight months. If it is your last, you have got to make the most of it,” De Villiers acknowledged.
Late last year, De Villiers would have been forgiven for thinking that maybe the end had come on a cold November night in Cardiff, instead of the autumnal London evening he had in the back of his mind. After all, sport seldom stops for sentiment.
Now, back on his feet and back at the helm in a Test match from that horrific injury, De Villiers can see the World Cup on the horizon, even as he admits the next two games are his only opportunities to prove Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer right.
In his extended absence, the Boks have unearthed a new centre pairing, which De Villiers will now be sandwiched between, with Jesse Kriel shifting to wing, and the veteran partnering Damian de Allende at centre.
De Villiers bashfully speaks of the training sessions they have enjoyed together, mixing versatile players around, as they try to find the key to unlock defences in the showpiece event next month.
“We are all comfortable playing in different positions, so it does help. I think Jesse and Damian have done really well together. You know, sometimes when you put two great players together, it doesn’t work. But they worked well together right away, and it is very exciting.”
Meyer admitted that it had been one of his toughest decisions to break up that emerging partnership, but the need for his talismanic skipper to get game time into his legs had won him over.
So does that put extra pressure on the 34-year-old, considering what has come before him this year?
“Every time you play for South Africa you have to prove that the decision to select you was the right one. And that’s not just me, but for everyone.
“The fact that other guys played well doesn’t put more pressure on me, it just means I have to prove to myself that I am good enough,” De Villiers explained.
Having played for as long as he has, De Villiers said adjusting to the defensive demands of 13 wouldn’t be too much of an ask.
Of bigger concern to him was his side turning the corner and getting positive energy heading to the World Cup.
“We don’t have a warm-up game before the World Cup, so these last two games are our warm-up games. We want to get confidence in the way we play and hopefully snowball that into the World Cup,” he offered.
Save for the recovering Fourie du Preez at scrumhalf, the backline that Meyer has chosen for on Saturday’s Test looks to be almost what he will go with, if every man is fit.
On that basis alone, it is imperative the Springboks find their fluidity and their shape on Saturday, to ease a public that has become increasingly concerned.
“I have spent eight months on the outside looking in, and I know what sport can do for the people,” De Villiers said. “It can give hope, and it is a great responsibility on all of us to give that, because we need it as a country.”
This afternoon, De Villiers, patched up and poised, will proudly lead his team out in front of a home crowd for the last time.
Together, they will go in search of those millimetres, those that are the difference between great and terrible.
South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Jean de Villiers (capt), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Beast Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Marcel van der Merwe, 19 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Pat Lambie, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Jerónimo De la Fuente, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Juan Martín Hernández, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustín Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Matías Díaz, 19 Matías Alemanno, 20 Tomás Lezana, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino
Original source: Jean’s Bok home swansong