Boks hope big risk pays off

Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)
Damian de Allende (Gallo Images)

Pretoria - The Springboks are banking on a midfield combination that is untried, untested and a high-risk scenario in their Rugby Championship opener against Argentina this weekend, but one that will pay high rewards if it comes off.

The supersport.com website reports that there is no doubt that Bok coach Heyneke Meyer is ready to take the gamble on Damian de Allende.

The Stormers midfielder has impressed him extensively in this year’s Super Rugby series, but it is the return of Bok captain Jean de Villiers that makes the midfield selection so spicy.

For one both De Allende and De Villiers are returning from injury, with some questionmarks over the Bok captain’s fitness after three months on the sidelines with a knee injury.

While De Villiers and team doctor Craig Roberts have both spoken about his readiness to play again, Meyer said at the team announcement that Jan Serfontein – who he called "probably the player of the June series" – had been put on the bench to cover the midfield "as both centres haven’t played a lot."

"We were concerned with Jean. But he has come through training well," Meyer said.

"He has improved as a captain, probably the best captain in the world at the moment.

"I could just see when he joined the team – and I don’t want to take anything away from Victor or Bismarck in this regard – but there is a great vibe in the team and we need him to play.

"That is why Jan is on the bench, because both centres haven’t played for some time, and Jan has done well.

"It is great to have a guy like that on the bench if there is an injury.

"I don’t think Jean can go for 60 (minutes), so Jan can slot in there.

"He has proven himself there."

It would be difficult to see De Villiers completing the game in normal circumstances anyway, as Meyer would want him fresh and ready for the rest of the Championship, but it does add a lot of spice to the match where the Boks have a lot riding on a good start.

The one thing that Meyer cannot stop talking about, is how he is excited to see De Allende in the Bok backline.

"Damian has really impressed me in Super Rugby. I like his mental toughness," Meyer said.

"I always say when I look at players, when I choose them I look at their character when they play away from South Africa.

"Especially in New Zealand where the conditions are tough.

"He has always impressed me as a tough player, but he has the skillful attributes as well.

"It is a pity we didn’t work with him in June, because I truly believe that if he was with us in June, he would have been awesome by now.

"I won’t say I was surprised, but working with him over the last week, I’ve really been impressed with him and the soft touches.

"He is a big guy who runs beautiful lines, and he is good enough to get the ball away.

"We’re scoring more and more tries lately and we’re trying to play a more attacking game."

While some may have raised some eyebrows about De Allende at 13 and not his regular 12, Meyer made it clear De Villiers needs to be at his regular position to lead the team.

"Jan (Serfontein) has really done well.

"He was probably close to our best player in the incoming tours.

"But I want to use this game to see who our outside centre will be.

"I haven’t settled on an outside centre yet and Jean can play there.

"With (Handré) Pollard playing, I always feel Jean’s best position is at 12, he is closer to the contact.

"He can do all the calls.

"The one thing that is good about Jean is that even though he can carry, he can also distribute, that’s why we score a lot of tries on the outside.

"Damian can be excellent on the outside, he’s played there at school and he has played wing as well.

"If you can play wing and inside centre, there is no reason you can’t play outside centre.

"The only mark was his defence and he impressed me with that.

"I think he can turn into a brilliant outside centre, he is big and strong and has skillful hands."

Meyer also hinted that the Boks may switch their midfield, and use it also to compliment their roving role that Willie le Roux has when on attack.

"What we will probably do, which will keep the opposition guessing at times, is use interplay as well," Meyer explained.

"It will almost be like the old days where you’d have a left and right centre.

"We don’t want to overuse Jean carrying the ball up, Damian is also a guy who can run the ball up and can interchange as well.

"I just feel he could be great at 13, I want to give him a chance and see what he can do."

Either way, this home Test against Argentina is possibly the last leeway Meyer will have before things get tough.

Three away games await after this, three tough games in a row.

The Boks will need to leave for Salta on Sunday knowing not only that they have a Test win and points in the bag, but also that some of their questions have been answered in their Loftus performance.

Teams:
South Africa:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Damian de Allende, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Bakkies Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Substitutes: 16 Adriaan Strauss, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Eben Etzebeth, 20 Marcell Coetzee, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Jan Serfontein

Argentina:
15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 7 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 6 Paul Matera, 5 Thomas Lavanini, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 Ramiro Herrera 2 Agustin Creevy (captain), 1 Marcos Ayerza

Substitutes: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Paz Lucas Noguera, 18 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Thomas Cubelli, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino

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