A powerful human armoured vehicle

2015-03-29 15:00

Damian de Allende is one of a few local players who have enhanced their reputations in what has so far been a disappointing Vodacom Super Rugby season for South African teams.

The Stormers inside centre managed to get the better of his face-to-face clash with the Chiefs and New Zealand’s Sonny Bill Williams – and played a key role in the expansive pattern his side is trying to adopt.

De Allende has become the focal point of the Stormers backline – and South Africa’s version of the speedy “armoured vehicle” type of player many teams are trying to incorporate.

His defensive capabilities have never been in question, but this season the 23-year-old has shown an attacking dimension that is going to make it hard for national coach Heyneke Meyer not to end the lease Springbok captain Jean de Villiers currently holds on the No 12 jersey.

The deployment of a destructive runner at inside centre has become a trend in many test matches as teams try to find ways to beat shallow-lying, constrictive defences.

The All Blacks fielded chunky Ma’a Nonu and, when he lost form, the Kiwis moved quickly to bring Williams back. Wales have the biggest of them all in Jamie Roberts. England responded with the likes of Luther Burrell and Billy Twelvetrees and there is talk of the Wallabies moving Israel Folau closer to the action. France, while not committed to the concept, continue to fall back on human tank Mathieu Bastareaud.

There was a time the No 12 was no more than a battering ram, but these days coaches expect more than a wrecking ball.

His job is to take the ball up, set a target for loose forwards, stand in the tackle, offload, thrust through if tackles are half-hearted – and be fleet of foot.

De Allende (a Spanish derivation, phonetically Dee Eellendee) has relished the multitasking required by the Stormers and grown as a leader in the team.

He is also an inspiration to the Stormers’ eclectic supporters, as his rise to the top – he won his first Springbok cap last year – has not been through the accepted Western Province route.

He went to Milnerton High and did not come into contact with rugby until Grade 8.

“I was actually a soccer player [an attacking midfielder] and I still kind of miss it,” he says, revealing he is a lifelong “proud supporter of Liverpool”.

Pulled into rugby because of his size, De Allende makes light of his amazing progress after a late start – he made it into Western Province’s Under-19 side within a few years.

De Allende, although set on a path that will lead to confrontation with De Villiers if the skipper regains full fitness after knee surgery, neatly sidesteps the question of whether that bothers him.

“Jean is a great player from whom I’ve learnt a lot,” he says. “Even though he’s injured, he still comes down to training to encourage us and pass on advice. I have great respect for him and all I can do is concentrate on playing as well as I can.”

Ironically, given that his size is often remarked upon, De Allende reveals that his childhood hero in the Western Province and Stormers teams was the diminutive Gio Aplon.

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