Damian de Allende’s ability to mix things up at inside centre should see him retain the Springbok No 12 jersey, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Inside centre is probably the one position where the Springboks don’t have a lot of genuine depth. André Esterhuizen and Damian de Allende are the two standout players in the country at the moment, while there aren’t a lot of specialist No 12s outside the country either.
It’s not like the positions of wing, flank, lock, flyhalf or even outside centre, where the Boks are blessed with a good crop of talented and dynamic players.
So, it’s a bit of a dogfight between De Allende and Esterhuizen, who interestingly enough, have played some of their best rugby against New Zealand opposition this year.
Esterhuizen, in particular, has added a lot to his game, including a big left boot, which has really helped the Sharks’ exits this year. His stopping power on defence also makes him an attractive prospect.
De Allende, though, seems to be finding the sort of form that he showed in the 2015 Super Rugby campaign, when he was up there in most of the attacking stats in the competition. He made many linebreaks with his powerful bursts, while also offloading in the tackle. It looked like the beginning of a great career – a big boy at No 12 who also possessed a bit of skill.
Sadly, though, a combination of untimely injuries and crash-ball tactics never saw him develop his skills, especially in his time working with Allister Coetzee at the Springboks, where he was told to go low – head down – into contact and not look around for options around him.
Springbok inside centres are generally used to truck the ball up, instead of making the play. They are the battering rams used to try and find momentum.
But elsewhere in the world, inside centres can do both jobs. Sonny Bill Williams and Ma’a Nonu are classic examples of big players who have the ability to make that space-finding pass or that little offload in the tackle.
Over the last couple of weeks De Allende has really found that touch again. He had a fantastic game with ball in hand against the Highlanders, producing may top offloads and putting away captain Siya Kolisi with a well-timed pop pass.
‘A lot of individuals stepped up… But for me the most outstanding contribution came from Damian de Allende,’ Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said of the centre’s performance after that game.
‘He was the player that really stood out. He hadn’t trained the whole week, but he was immense in the midfield, both from a physical point of view and from a decision-making point of view.’
De Allende is often criticised for not passing the ball or realising when to offload. But unfortunately he has played in systems that demanded him to play in a certain way.
But he is more than simply a one-dimensional No 12. He has the rugby brain and the ability to find that good pass when he needs to. It’s just about giving him the confidence to do it more often.
De Allende can be a player who mixes his power with a bit of class in the Springbok backline.
Photo: Gordon Arons/Gallo Images