Damian desperate to atone

Damian de Allende is determined to make a physical statement in the Springboks’ must-win clash at Ellis Park on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports from Johannesburg.

Ireland beat the Boks 26-20 at Newlands last week to take a 1-0 lead in the three-Test series. They outmuscled the Boks at the collisions and then won field position with their pinpoint kicking game.

Joe Schmidt’s charges have every reason to believe that a second win, a series-clinching win, will be possible at Ellis Park this Saturday.

Most of the Boks have come in for criticism following a poor performance at Newlands. De Allende is but one of the players who disappointed with a lack of intensity and accuracy.

Evidently, the players have now woken up to the fact that South Africa is on the verge of a monumental series loss. The team looked sharper at the training session staged at St Peter’s College on Tuesday afternoon. De Allende trained as if he had a point to prove.

‘That’s the attitude I want to see in the tackle! Great job Damian!’ barked Bok defence consultant Jacques Nienaber, who put the players through a series of drills at the beginning of the session. De Allende made a point of shutting down the attacking player’s space, and putting all of his 101kg into the tackle.

At the end of the session, De Allende was honest in his assessment of the team’s performance at Newlands. He admitted that he personally had a point to prove in the next game at Ellis Park.

‘We’re all pretty desperate to put things right,’ the Bok No 12 said. ‘We all need to make a statement after last week’s performance. We’re trying to put it behind us, but we can also use it as motivation.

‘We are trying to improve our defence. We are trying to increase our line speed as we feel that will be crucial. The key to good defence these days is taking away your opponent’s space.’

De Allende sustained a serious ankle injury while playing for his Japanese club, the Kintetsu Liners, at the end of last year. On Tuesday, he said that the fightback from injury had been tougher than expected and had influenced his form at Super Rugby and now Test level.

‘I think I’ve just lacked a bit of confidence coming back from that injury. This training session was a good one for me. As the weeks go by, my confidence will improve,’ he said.

‘To be honest, I didn’t realise it would be so hard coming back from that injury. It’s been a slow process. I’m trying to be as positive as I can and work as hard as I can. Hopefully in the next two weeks I can get back to where I was last year.’

Bok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick believes that some of the criticism of De Allende and the backline as a whole is unjustified. Stick was particularly proud of the way the backs executed in the lead-up to Lwazi Mvovo’s try at Newlands.

After the game, former Bok coach Nick Mallett said that the try should not have been awarded. ‘De Allende is not in a position to take the pass before he makes contact with the defender, so it is obstruction,’ said Mallett.

Stick didn’t refer to Mallett directly, but disagreed with the suggestion that there was obstruction.

‘That was one of the moves we practised in training, and it was great to see it coming off. Damian ran a good line where he blocked the Ireland No 12 [Luke Marshall].

‘I’m not sure about the comments about obstruction. I’m not sure if I understand it very well, but obstruction for me is when I run behind the player. That is obstruction. If the pass goes behind the player, that is called a block line. I’m not sure who is the professor of rugby who will say it’s obstruction.

‘I was happy to see the players strike from that movement, and then celebrate afterwards. We will try to create more moments like at Ellis Park on Saturday, once we have the field position.'

Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli