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14th Jul 2018

Springboks legend Jean De Villiers on two jersey swaps he treasures most

Patrick McCarry

At one stage of his career, the South African had beaten New Zealand seven of the 13 times he faced them.

Jean De Villiers has played some of the very best teams, and players, several times over and has swapped more than his fair share.

The former Munster centre made 109 appearances for the Springboks and 23 of them were against the All Blacks. Between 2004 and 2009, he ended up on the winning side seven times against the ABs but they turned the table soon after. It has yet to turn back.

De Villiers made his debut against France in 2002 and his Test career ended, after a bad knee injury, at the 2015 World Cup. During that 13-year stretch, he took on the very finest rugby had to offer.

The former Springboks captain joined The Hard Yards for a feature-length interview and [from 24:00 below] spoke of his toughest opponents and the jerseys that, for him, hold pride of place.

“Having played on the international scene for such a long time, I came against some fantastic centres,” said De Villiers.

“Brian O’Driscoll is one of the best to have ever played the game. There was Stirling Mortlock, Tana Umaga, Yannick Jauzion from France, Sonny Bill Williams and Matt Giteau.

“Ma’a Nonu is the one that sits right at the top. I played against some brilliant players and always enjoyed the challenge.

“I often believe that it is about the partnerships you play in, and against, in midfield. Gordon D’Arcy and O’Driscoll were certainly a great partnership and were probably right up there with Nonu and Conrad Smith. Tana Umaga, who I played with and against, too.”

De Villiers is not the sort of player to put all his post-match jersey swaps in frames and display them in a special room in his house. That does not stop him, though, keeping great care of them.

He speaks in almost reverential terms when he hits upon the jersey swaps that stand out. He commented:

“Ma’a Nonu gave me his jersey after my 100th Test match. I really appreciated that.

“I swapped jerseys with ROG [Ronan O’Gara] and Paulie O’Connell. Those I really do cherish. Not only have you played against them but they are your friends.

“Those are pretty special, as is Jamie Roberts’. I got that from him during the 2009 Lions Series.”

Nonu, O’Gara, O’Connell and Roberts. You have the makings of a world-class team right there.