Jean de Villiers
Jean de Villiers will captain Springboks at the forthcoming World Cup, with Victor Matfield serving as his deputyAFP

Jean de Villiers will lead South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup after being named in Heyneke Meyer's 31-man squad for the tournament which begins next month.

The 34-year-old Stormers centre suffered a horrific knee injury during a 12-6 defeat to Wales during the autumn international series in November 2014 and also fractured his jaw during his first match back in a Springbok jersey against Argentina at the Kings Park Stadium.

Despite that, De Villiers, who has amassed 107 senior test caps during his career to date, is selected as part of a hugely experienced squad including Bulls' scrum-half Rudy Paige as its only uncapped player and boasts several previous world champions in the likes of Victor Matfield, Bismarck du Plessis, Fourie du Preez, Ruaan Pienaar, Bryan Habana and JP Pietersen.

"Every single player in our wider group worked incredibly hard and to cut the squad to 31 was probably the most difficult selection I've faced in my coaching career," Meyer said of his selection. "In the end, the selectors decided the 31 players named were the best we have at the moment but that is not to say any of the others won't have a role to play, with injuries a reality in our game.

"I think the squad has a great balance between youth and experience while keeping together the core of the team that did the country proud in the last few years. We also have a number of players who know what it takes to win a World Cup and their knowledge will be very valuable. We're going to England with the hopes of a nation on our shoulders and we would really like to make our country proud, but we're under no illusions about how tough it will be.

"The gap between all the nations playing in the tournament has shrunk over the years and this will probably be the closest World Cup yet. But the players have really worked very hard over the last two months and by the time we get to Eastbourne for our first match, we'll hopefully be firing on all cylinders."

South Africa finished bottom of the pile in the recent Rugby World Championship following defeats to eventual winners Australia, New Zealand and Argentina but will nevertheless still be considered as one of the front-runners as they chase a third World Cup title following previous victories in 1995 and 2007.

Meyer's team begin their campaign against Japan in Brighton on 19 September and also face Samoa, Scotland and the United States in a bid to navigate a relatively straightforward Pool B. One of England, Wales, Australia or perhaps even Fiji will likely await in the quarter-finals.

South Africa's 31-man World Cup squad:

Forwards: Willem Alberts, Schalk Brits, Schalk Burger, Lood de Jager, Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Francois Louw, Frans Malherbe, Victor Matfield, Tendai Mtawarira, Trevor Nyakane, Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss, Duane Vermeulen

Backs: Damian de Allende, Jean de Villiers, Fourie du Preez, Bryan Habana, Zane Kirchner, Jesse Kriel, Pat Lambie, Willie le Roux, Lwazi Mvovo, Rudy Paige, Ruan Pienaar, JP Pietersen, Handre Pollard, Morne Steyn

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