While he has been signed as an ‘edge’ forward, Hacjivah Dayimani could be a revelation in the Stormers backline, writes DYLAN JACK.
Dayimani is a special talent. The kind of player that comes around once, maybe twice, in a generation.
Aside from his ability as a rugby player, his humility, work ethic, humble beginnings and inspirational outlook on life make him someone who is very difficult not to root for.
Over and above this, what makes Dayimani unique is that he by no means fits into the boxes that tend to be assigned to players in the professional era of sport.
At 23, he still has plenty he can achieve on the field.
After a rapid start to his professional career at the Lions, Dayimani was notably absent over the past six months as he continues to recover from a long-term knee injury.
Still, there was much interest in his services, abroad and domestically. After joining the Stormers on an initial loan for the Currie Cup, Dayimani completed a permanent return back to Cape Town, making his Western Province debut against the Bulls.
The Stormers courted Dayimani, having identified him as someone who can add mobility to their back row.
At 1.88m and weighing in at around 100kg, Dayimani has the classic build of an openside flanker. However, as a player who has featured at the sevens academy and can run a sub-11 seconds over 100m, he has the kind of explosive speed that would rank him among the quickest backs, let alone forwards.
It is understandable why Stormers fans would shudder at the thought of a forward-back hybrid, bringing up memories of Nick Koster and Fijian flier Sireli Naqelevuki.
Despite starting his career as a flank, Koster made his Super Rugby debut on the wing for the Stormers, but he was quickly shifted back to the loose trio after recovering from a knee injury.
Many point to the constant shifting between positions as the reason Koster never fulfilled the immense potential he showed as a schoolboy. I would argue that while he was blisteringly quick, Koster did not have the agility necessary to make the transition a success, something Dayimani definitely has.
Koster’s failure to transition his schoolboy talent into professional rugby also had much to do with temperament and the mental side of the game. If one were to spend just a few minutes chatting with Dayimani, they would realise that he is a deep thinker, both on the game itself and his own career.
A polarising figure in Cape rugby circles, if ever there was one, Naqelevuki played most of his career as a back, but would transition to the pack in the latter stages of his playing days.
While most will remember him for his costly error in the 2010 Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks, it is worth keeping in mind that his physically imposing partnership with outside centre Jacque Fourie gave the Stormers the kind of penetration on attack they have lacked since.
This is where Dayimani comes in. With a fresh move, the opportunity is there to fully invest in the project the Lions started when Swys de Bruin – a coach responsible for many a successful career – used him as a backline replacement in 2018.
When one looks at the Stormers wings – Seabelo Senatla, Sergeal Petersen, Edwill van der Merwe, Leolin Zas and Sihle Njezula – one gets the sense that while they don’t lack for depth in this position, there is definitely a need for a greater balance.
This has partially been the reason behind their struggles against rush defenders, where their wings can find themselves isolated out wide and lack the physical presence to break a tackle.
With Dayimani on one wing and perhaps Damian Willemse and Ruhan Nel or Rikus Pretorius in midfield, the Stormers would have the kind of directness that has been missing since they made the Super Rugby final in 2010.
By no means am I suggesting that Dayimani will only reach his potential as a backline player, or that he is incapable of playing as a loose forward. He shares a similar build and playing style to Ardie Savea, so there is every chance he could replicate the career of the near-50-cap All Blacks flank, or perhaps go even further with his own Test career.
Given South Africa’s ability to churn out Test-quality loose forwards and that they lack Duhan van der Merwe-esque physical wings, a shift to the backline could present Dayimani with his easiest path to Test rugby.
However, the decision will ultimately lie with him and the Stormers. Without the complete and full buy-in and commitment of both parties, any attempt at a positional switch is doomed to fail.
I, for one, would back him to pull it off.
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