Cape Town – Stormers coach Robbie Fleck should seriously consider reprising Springbok Juan de Jongh’s already-known ability to cover the crucial inside centre position at this time of heightened need by the Newlands outfit.
Traditionally the hot-stepping De Jongh has been employed primarily in the outside berth, whether for South Africa, the Stormers or Western Province, and the status quo was no doubt intended to prevail for Super Rugby 2016.
But the franchise are suddenly alarmingly short-staffed, for the start of the campaign, at No 12 following the revelation that versatile, experienced Jaco Taute requires ankle surgery – he joins the top choice in the slot, Damian de Allende, on the sidelines for the next few weeks.
De Allende, one of the rare backline shining lights at national level last year, is expected back around mid-April but that still means the Stormers have a considerable problem for at least half a dozen matches ahead of his return.
Remember that for the lion’s share of the last decade and more, they were blessed in the important strategic position by the presence – often as captain too -- of a certain Jean de Villiers, now in the twilight of his illustrious first-class career at Leicester.
But on the subject of De Villiers, he similarly left a hole at No 12 in the middle of his lengthy Newlands-based career during 2010, when he had a short-term stint with Munster.
So in the first that year of two seasons in which the Stormers snared the services of another classy midfield Springbok in the shape of Jaque Fourie, a specialist No 13, a young De Jongh was entrusted with policing the closer channel.
He did the job more than competently, having little trouble finding the appropriate synergy with Fourie and adapting in an unfussed way to the berth next to the flyhalf.
The pair were at Nos 12 and 13 respectively in the 2010 final, when the Stormers came their closest yet to winning Super Rugby overall; they played second fiddle to the Bulls in the showpiece at Orlando Stadium.
The now 27-year-old De Jongh, who returns to the Cape and the XVs mode immediately after this weekend’s Sydney leg of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series with the Blitzbokke, would bring a vital, necessary element of battle-hardened nous and direction to the Stormers’ still rather vulnerable-looking trio of “conduit” positions between the pack and outside backs – jerseys nine, 10 and 12, where sound decision-making is a core function.
It already seems likely that they will be giving the 22-year-old Robert du Preez maiden, fairly extended exposure to the pivot position at this level after he blew hot and cold in the 2015 Currie Cup (the jury similarly remains out over enigmatic Kurt Coleman’s qualities).
Fleck has reportedly hinted to the media that Huw Jones – another 22-year-old -- is an option to plug the No 12 vacancy although he can also not yet be branded a Super Rugby “regular” and is more accustomed anyway with wider berths on the park.
If the Stormers want to stave off looking dangerously callow in the backline slots closest to the engine room, De Jongh could be the correct short-term balancer at inside centre, leaving Jones to slug out rights to No 13 with the likes of Johnny Kotze and Kobus van Wyk.
The slippery De Jongh is a commendable “team” player, boasts leadership experience for WP at Currie Cup level and just seems a comforting fit at No 12 – a busy channel where his tigerish, grab-him-low tackling would come in especially handy -- for the moment.
Perhaps Fleck is resolute in his wish to make use of De Jongh’s knack of wriggling through holes in areas where there is generally greater space on offer ... but a counter view might be that if there is an overly naive look to the players further infield, the outside backs aren’t going to be set in offensive motion too regularly anyway.
It’s just food for thought.
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