Former Springbok centre Robbie Fleck says supporters shouldn’t put Damian de Allende ‘in a box’, and that most of the Bok inside centre’s good work around the park goes unnoticed, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
De Allende, who will wear the No 12 jersey in South Africa’s opening World Cup clash against the All Blacks on Saturday, is often labelled as a one-dimensional player by supporters because of his robust style of play.
However, Fleck, the former Stormers coach who has coached De Allende since U19 level, says the Bok centre is very skilful and that the gameplan generally employed by Bok coaches over the last few years has restricted his role as a playmaker.
‘Everyone has labelled him and put him in a box, saying he is just this one-dimensional player who only gets across the advantage line,’ said Fleck, who played arguably his best Test in the Boks’ 46-40 victory over the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 2000.
‘Look, he does that, there is no doubt, and it’s what he is really good at. But there are certain subtleties to his game, and certain skill elements that people don’t recognise and appreciate enough.’
De Allende had a stunning 2015 when he topped most of the Super Rugby attacking stats, such as line breaks and offloads. He was then picked for the Bok squad for the 2015 World Cup and had a pretty good tournament.
However, injuries haven’t been kind to him since then, which saw him drop off in form. But, in 2019, he has put in some top displays for coach Rassie Erasmus.
‘He is one of the best passers in the game. When he gets time and a bit of space he can put his outside backs away. I guess he has been playing to a certain gameplan, but when he plays his game he has the physicality and beautiful subtleties to his game that don’t often get recognised,’ Fleck added.
‘When he is playing with a lot of confidence, like he did at the last World Cup, where he was outstanding, he is unstoppable. When he is a bit frustrated he doesn’t play well.
‘But you can just see there is a quiet confidence about him at the moment. He is certainly a key player for the Boks.’
One of the areas where De Allende’s contributions get overlooked is his play at the defensive breakdown. He was especially good against Argentina, when he counter-rucked with a lot of venom and managed to get a few turnovers.
He is also key in the Boks high-intensity defensive system, says Fleck, as he read the opposition’s attack well and get quickly onto his feet to make tackles.
‘He is putting on a lot of pressure at the breakdown. I guess he is not a natural stealer, but his counter-rucking and his decision-making at the defensive breakdown is excellent,’ Fleck said.
‘That sort of work gets unnoticed. His work-rate off the ball, especially on defence is outstanding. He is a very good defensive player, and understands it well. He fills the gaps and has a massive appetite.’
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