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Lead or follow, Van Heerden is game

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Flank Wikus van Heerden, one of three players in the running to take over the Springbok captaincy from the injured Bob Skinstad, says it doesn’t matter if he leads or follows.

Bok coach Jake White has revealed that Van Heerden, hooker Gary Botha and lock Johann Muller are the candidates to lead South Africa in the Tri-Nations Test against New Zealand in Christchurch this week – as all three have leadership experience at provincial level.

It has been suggested that Muller is the favourite and that Van Heerden will be afforded the opportunity to concentrate on his game – after his stand-out performance in the Boks’ 17-25 defeat to Australia last Saturday.

Van Heerden admitted that he will put up his hand and make himself available for the captaincy, but said that just playing is already a huge honour.

“There’s been no formal discussion,” the 28-year-old loose forward said when quizzed about the captaincy issue.

“I think the official announcement will be Tuesday and it will be somebody who has been involved in the system in the last few weeks, someone who will know what the calls are and know the structures,” he said.

“Definitely, I’ll put my hand up. To play for the Boks is a privilege and it’s an even bigger honour to lead them onto the field.

“Any player would like to have that honour, but at the end of the day I would have liked to have been involved a bit more in the last few weeks.”

Van Heerden played his first Test in almost four years for the Boks, when he ran out on the flank in the 17-25 loss to the Wallabies in Sydney last Saturday. The result in his previous international appearance was also less than memorable – a 9-29 defeat to Australia in Brisbane in August 2003.

However, this past weekend Van Heerden produced the kind of rugby that almost certainly booked him a place in coach Jake White’s World Cup squad and resulted in the Bok mentor listing him as a possible team leader against the All Blacks.

While the captaincy issue remains the most frequently discussed topic, South Africa’s prospects against arch rivals New Zealand is another heated debate.

As was the case ahead of the Test against Australia last week, the question is if the Boks could beat the Kiwis without the 20-odd players left at home before the Australasian trip and another half-a-dozen that has been injured since?

Van Heerden said the loss to the Wallabies has not broken the team’s spirit. Not even the fact that they conceded a 17-point lead will kill off their enthusiasm.

“We still see it as a very big challenge,” Van Heerden said after the team arrived in Christchurch.

He echoed similar sentiments to coach Jake White when he put the loss to the Wallabies down to a “lack of experience” against one of the most seasoned teams in the world.

“Obviously we are bitterly disappointed with last Saturday, having lost after we were 17-0 up.

“However, the guys see it as a case of ‘here we are in New Zealand, we have another chance and we are in a situation where we have nothing to lose’.

“It is another opportunity to play for our country and we are very excited about it,” Van Heerden said.

He said it is up to the players themselves to pick up the pieces after the loss to the Wallabies, but felt that the character of the team will come through this week.

“The guys are very motivated to make amends for the disappointment of not winning last Saturday,” he said.

Having had four years between internationals Van Heerden could book his place in the World Cup squad with another stand-out performance against the All Blacks.

However, the loose forward said he is not thinking that far ahead and is more concerned about helping the team achieve success this week.

“It doesn’t help much to think about World Cup places and that sort of stuff right now. For me it is unbelievable to have an opportunity just to play a Test again – it’s been four years since I last played a Test.

“Just to get another chance is unbelievable, so I take it game for game and day for day.

“If I do get another chance against New Zealand this week it will be unbelievable.

“I don’t want to look beyond this weekend’s game against New Zealand and that is exactly how I approached last week’s game against Australia,” he added.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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