South Africa’s form centre Damian de Allende continues to give Heyneke Meyer food for thought in the buildup to the 2015 World Cup, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Stormers have won three from three and, against most pre-season predictions, are currently at the top of the South African conference log. Take nothing away from the collective effort, but it’s been the leadership of Duane Vermeulen and the game-breaking influence of De Allende that’s been largely responsible for the Cape side’s success in the initial rounds.
Both have made game-shaping plays in the Stormers’ past three matches. One has come to expect such things from Vermeulen, who was recently named South Africa’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year following his exploits at Test and regional level in 2014. What’s been encouraging to see is the continued rise of De Allende, who's starting to realise his potential in that crucial position of No 12.
He’s been identified by Meyer and his lieutenants as one for the future, and one for right now. While he only represented the Springboks three times in 2014, he has been awarded a national contract. The Bok coaches believe the 23-year-old centre is an important player, and that he will only get better with experience.
That much has been evident in the past 12 months. While he was influential for the Stormers in 2014, he’s started to utilise his full skill set and taken even more responsibility in 2015. Distribution, defence, physicality, vision, kicking out of hand … it’s been obvious over the past three weeks that there isn’t much De Allende can’t do, and that his decision-making is an asset for his team.
Consider that tackle on opposite number Howard Mnisi this past Saturday at Ellis Park. The Lions were in a terrific position to score and win the game. Mnisi got the ball on the front foot, and his momemtum should have taken him over the tryline. However, the tackle by De Allende jolted the ball loose.
TV replays revealed that De Allende had targeted the ball. It was an intelligent piece of defence. Had De Allende gone any lower on Mnisi, the Lions centre may still have had the momentum to reach for the line and score.
It was a game-defining play, and will have given the Bok selectors food for thought. Of course, it's but one in a series of excellent contributions over the past three weeks. De Allende is pushing hard to win a place in that 31-man World Cup squad.
That performance against the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in round one was a statement in itself. De Allende brought the necessary physicality to the gainline battle, but there was nothing mindless about his abrasive display. That booming line kick that won the Stormers so much territory at one point has also been noted by the Bok coaching staff. They’re looking for a No 12 who can serve as a second flyhalf, and De Allende has shown he has all the skills to thrive in this role.
Meyer and company still hope that Jean de Villiers will recover from a knee injury to play at the World Cup. But if De Villiers is going to feature at that tournament, it will be at No 13 and not at No 12.
South Africa have several quality options at inside centre. De Allende outplayed the Bok incumbent, Jan Serfontein, in the recent clash between the Bulls and Stormers at Loftus. It will be interesting to see how De Allende fares against another strong candidate, Frans Steyn, when the Stormers and Sharks meet this season.
Steyn is a proven match-winner for both the Sharks and the Boks, and would be a massive asset to South Africa when they travel to England later this year. The fact he’s played over 50 Tests for South Africa must also come into the equation, as experience is so crucial at World Cups.
But if De Allende continues on his current course, he should also be in the mix. Like Steyn, he is that rare breed of player who has the game intelligence to complement his physical skills. He’s shown over the past three weeks that he has what it takes to win the big moments in big games. That's the type of player Meyer should be looking to take to the World Cup.
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